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Brush Your Teeth Like Your Life Depends on It

A mouth full of cavities isn’t the only thing you risk if you routinely fall into bed at night without brushing your teeth.

In addition to fighting tooth decay, brushing your teeth at least twice a day can lower your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD causes a buildup of cholesterol and calcium – arterial plaque – in the coronary arteries. CAD increases risk for heart attack and stroke and is a leading cause of death in the United States and Canada.

How Your Toothbrush Can Help Your Heart

Brushing your teeth helps protect against periodontal disease, a bacterial infection of the gums that can lead to tooth loss. Periodontal disease can make instances of existing CAD and other chronic health conditions including diabetes worse. Research indicates that periodontal disease may also be a source of CAD. Once the bacteria that cause periodontal disease settles into the gums, it can travel to the heart. Bacterial endocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the heart’s lining and valves, can also develop.

Brushing your teeth when you first get up and then again before you go bed helps to prevent periodontal disease by removing dental plaque. This is the sticky residue from food that forms on teeth and at the gum line. In as little as 48 hours, dental plaque can harden into a cement-like material called calculous or tartar that, without the assistance of a dentist, is almost impossible to remove. Calculous can irritate the gums, making them susceptible to periodontal disease and all of the complications that can follow.

Prevent Dental Plaque Buildup

  • Brush your teeth at least two minutes twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Pay particular attention where your gums and teeth meet.
  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Floss between your teeth at least once a day to remove food particles that your toothbrush did not reach.
  • Eat a balanced diet. For snacks, choose nutritious foods such as plain, low-fat yogurt and cheese, fruit and raw vegetables. Eating crisp fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots and celery can actually help remove plaque from teeth.
  • Have your teeth cleaned every six months by a dentist or oral hygienist.
  • Ask your dentist about dental sealants: plastic coatings that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of teeth for additional protection against decay.

It’s also important to keep your toothbrush clean and to know when it’s time for a new one. Always rinse your toothbrush after use, store it in an upright position and let it air dry rather than placing it in a closed container, which encourages the growth of bacteria. Get a new toothbrush or a replacement head for ones that are electric or battery operated every three months (sooner if the bristles are frayed or if you have had a cold or the flu).

Keep your smile bright and your heart healthy by keeping your toothbrush in reach.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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