Health & Wellness

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy also may be a good way to keep your heart in good condition.

You know the drill: Brush your teeth twice a day, and once right before you go to the dentist. And when the dentist asks if you floss, lie and say you do.

While this routine might be enough to help you avoid cavities most of the time, you might want to step it up if you want to keep your mouth -- and body -- healthy.

Brushing and flossing regularly could do a whole lot more than just keep your pearly whites shiny and your breath fresh. From obvious benefits to your oral health to possibly preventing cancer, here are some reasons to take care of your gums and teeth:

Prevent tooth decay

If you've ever had a tooth filled at the dentist, you are acquainted with tooth decay to some degree. But tooth decay is more serious than a few fillings. Over time, tooth decay can lead to further damaged teeth and even tooth loss. By age 65, 93 percent of adults in the United States have cavities in their teeth and are missing an average of eight teeth. Preventative measures like drinking water with fluoride and using fluoride toothpaste can help protect teeth. Brush and floss teeth well and visit a dentist regularly.

"Good oral health is important throughout your life, and you can see the benefits of healthy teeth in old age," says Amy Santo, administrator at Smith Ranch Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. "Elderly people who have poor oral health can suffer from poor nutrition because they may lose teeth and be unable to eat well."

Spot oral cancer

Taking care of your mouth can help you recognize the signs of oral cancer. Your dentist also will look for cancer symptoms during your regular checkups, so be sure to stay up to date on your dental exams. Watch out for a sore in your mouth that doesn't get better or bleeding or pain in your mouth. Difficulty chewing or thickening in your mouth are also warning signs.

Prevent other cancers

In the fight to prevent cancer, good oral health may be a good weapon. Researchers found that people with severe gum disease had a higher chance of getting cancer, especially lung and colorectal cancers. In one study, people with periodontal disease had a 24 percent higher chance of getting cancer. While smoking is a risk factor for both periodontal disease and lung cancer, researchers found that even people who did not smoke had a higher risk of lung cancer if they had severe gum disease.

Avoid cardiovascular disease

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy may be a good way to keep your heart in good condition. Studies have found a correlation between poor oral health and cardiovascular disease. Although the reasoning is not yet clear, scientists have found that people with problems like gum disease or tooth loss have higher rates of heart attack and stroke.

Your teeth are a great asset when you bite into a burger, and healthy teeth could be an asset to your overall health as well. While scientists don't know all the ways oral health affects the rest of the body, it doesn't hurt to take care of your mouth to help prevent illness where you can.

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is a health care technology consultant and VP of marketing at Simplus, a Platinum Salesforce Partner.