From childhood, we're taught how to brush our teeth -- use circular motions, up and down, and don't forget the back teeth. There are many benefits to good brushing. Brushing reduces tartar and plaque build-up and prevents gum disease and periodontitis. Regular brushing also lessens our chance of cavities and gives us whiter teeth and a prettier smile.
But it turns out that a healthy mouth is more than just clean teeth; it's also the portal to a healthy body. In 2006, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) had their first joint conference. Their goal was to reduce health issues linked to poor dental care by increasing communication and awareness between the two professions. One speaker summed it up, saying "The fact that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body is often overlooked." [source: Sutton].
You may already know that teeth brushing can lessen your risk of developing heart disease [source: Dental Health Magazine] or that infections from poor oral care are linked to diabetes [source: Hatfield]. But it turns out that there are many more advantages -- outside your mouth -- that result from brushing your teeth. Read on to learn about some odd health benefits that teeth brushing can offer.
5: Prevent Respiratory Diseases
COPD and pneumonia are potentially disabling respiratory infections and primary causes of death in the United States. These infections occur when bacteria get into the lower respiratory tract [source: ScienceDaily]. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection and it starts when bacteria from plaque gets in and around the teeth [source: American Academy of Periodontology]. Can you see where this is leading?
In January 2011, the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) published information about a new study linking periodontal disease with respiratory disease. Research showed that the bacteria associated with periodontal disease could increase the risk of developing COPD and pneumonia. On the other hand, teeth brushing can reduce your chances of periodontal disease because it takes care of tartar and plaque, preventing the bacterial build-up in your mouth. "By working with your dentist or periodontist, you may actually be able to prevent or diminish the progression of harmful diseases such as pneumonia or COPD," said Donald Clem, DDS and president of the AAP [source: ScienceDaily].
So, while it doesn't seem like much, that two to three minute brushing a few times a day could actually save your life. It may also save your baby's too, as we'll see on the next page.
4: Improved Pregnancy
If you have ever been pregnant or knew someone that was, you know there is a long list of health woes and issues to manage -- nutrition, exercise, weight gain, blood pressure -- and oral health makes that list as well. Pregnant women are more prone to what is called "pregnancy gingivitis." This is a mild form of gum disease usually associated with swollen gums, possible bleeding or irritation. Increased focus on good teeth brushing helps with pregnancy gingivitis and being pregnant is never an excuse to skip a professional dental cleaning [source: American Academy of Periodontology].
But gingivitis can be the beginning of full-blown periodontal disease, and that can cause more than just irritation or discomfort. There have been studies showing links between women who have chronic gum disease and premature births, or preterm/low birthweight (PLBW) babies. One study published in The Journal of Periodontology on 450 women found that of those with untreated gum disease, a staggering 79 percent delivered early or had babies with low birth weights. Compare this to a low 4.1 percent of women with healthy gums who had PLBW babies [source: American Academy of Periodontology]. Other studies have supported these findings, emphasizing the correlation between healthy gums and healthy babies.
If your ears haven't perked up yet, they will now since most of us could stand to lose a few pounds. Brushing your teeth can help!
3: Helps with Weight Loss
You've probably gulped a glass of orange juice in the morning, right after brushing your teeth and it didn't taste so good, right? Brushing your teeth after you're done eating has that effect with more than just orange juice. Once your mouth feels minty-fresh, food and drink will not be that palatable, so you're more likely to skip them [source: Diabetic Living]. Your mouth and your waistline will thank you.
Then, there's the mental aspect: Teeth brushing is a signal for your brain to tell your body that eating is over. So after dinner, go ahead and brush your teeth, even if you're not ready for bed. It will help you fight the urge to eat anything else. This alone can help with weight loss since many people eat out of habit or boredom at night. These calories are the worst because they don't get used up. Rather, you just take them to bed and they become fat [source: Sasse].
Finally, if you want an odd tidbit to impress friends on trivia night, brushing your teeth three times a day, for two minutes each time burns more than 3,500 calories a year [source: Middle Management]. That's at least an extra pound that you're losing, just by brushing your teeth!
2: Improves Cognitive Function
Sudoku, green tea, exercise and Omega-3s are just some suggestions we hear today on how to improve our cognitive functioning [source: Cassels]. But studies show that we should add teeth brushing to that list as well. Gum disease has been shown to have an effect on cognitive dysfunction, which is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
In 2010, the American Dental Association released reports on a study by New York University's College of Dentistry. The NYU researchers, along with Danish colleagues, had tested 152 people to evaluate cognitive abilities later in life. Using a test called the Digit Symbol Test (DST) which measures adult IQ, the researchers found a relationship between people with periodontal swelling and people with low DST scores at age 70. In fact, participants with gum inflammation were nine times more likely to test on the low end than those without these oral health issues. According to Dr. Angela Kamer, the NYU lead on the study, people with "periodontal inflammation are at an increased risk of lower cognitive function compared to cognitively normal subjects" [source: American Dental Association].
A British study reported in Prevention Magazine also supported these findings. The team studied thousands of adults between ages 20 and 59 and found that gingivitis and advanced gum disease were connected with poor cognitive function and health -- not just in advanced age but throughout adulthood [source: Svoboda].
Our final benefit will be of special interest to men.
1: Reduces Sexual Problems
Not brushing your teeth can actually interfere with your sex life. And we're not talking about bad breath. A British study released in 2011 showed that gum disease and erectile dysfunction (ED) were related. Four out of five men in the study with severe erectile dysfunction also had gum disease [source: Dentistry.co.uk]. A group of Israeli researchers had similar findings -- over 15 percent of the men they studied with moderate to severe ED also had chronic gum disease [source: Prevention].
Why are these two conditions linked? Well, oral bacteria, built up from a lack of teeth-brushing, combined with plaque can enter the bloodstream. This can causes penile blood vessels to narrow, blood vessels needed to provide blood for a normal erection.
And on that topic, teeth brushing can also improve a man's sperm count. A separate Israeli research group found that of the 56 male subjects studied, more than 50 percent of men with low or no sperm counts also had gum disease. Of the men with no sperm count at all, half of them had chronic periodontal disease.
Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, summed it up well, saying, "Brushing your teeth may not sound sexy, but this study shows its importance to male fertility" [source: Dentistry.co.uk].
So, if you're a guy, you might want to stop reading and start brushing!
Lots More Information
- 5 Benefits of Electric Toothbrushes
- 5 Natural Tooth Whitening Ideas
- 5 Common Dental Myths
- 5 Foods That Are Good for Kids' Teeth
- 5 Teeth Straightening Options for Kids
- American Academy of Periodontology. "Dental Visits May Help Your Baby Arrive on Schedule." May 1, 2007. (September 6, 2011). http://www.perio.org/consumer/pregnancy-therapy07.htm
- American Academy of Periodontology. "Protecting Oral Health Throughout Your Life." May 27, 2011. (August 25, 2011). http://www.perio.org/consumer/women.htm
- American Academy of Periodontology. "Types of Gum Disease." April 1, 2011. (August 25, 2011). http://www.perio.org/consumer/2a.html.
- American Dental Association. "Gum Disease May Play a Role in Alzheimer's." September 1, 2010. (August 24, 2011). http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/ADA/2010/article/ADA-09-Gum-Disease-May-Play-a-Role-in-Alzheimers.cvsp
- Cassels, Caroline. "Two Weeks of Lifestyle Changes Improve Cognitive Function." American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2006. Vol. 14. Pg. 538-545.
- Dental Health Magazine. "Brushing Teeth Regularly Help Reduce Developing of Heart Disease." September 11, 2008. (August 24, 2011). http://worldental.org/teeth/brushing-teeth-regularly-help-reduce-developing-of-heart-disease/467/
- Dentistry.co.uk. "Brushing Teeth Boosts Sperm Count." March 4, 2009. (August 25, 2011). http://www.dentistry.co.uk/news/news_detail.php?id=1753#
- Dentistry.co.uk. "Poor Oral Care Can Impact Your Sex Life." June 29, 2011. (August 27, 2011). http://www.dentistry.co.uk/news/4170--Oral-health-Poor-oral-care-can-impact-on-your-sex-life#
- Hatfield, Heather. "Oral Health: The Mouth-Body Connection." WebMD. December 7, 2009. (August 25, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/oral-health-the-mouth-body-connection
- Middle Management. "5 Free Weight Loss Tips and Secrets to Burn Fat That You've Never Heard Of." (August 24, 2011). http://www.build-muscle-and-burn-fat.com/free-weight-loss-tips.html
- Prevention. "Healthy Teeth for Better Sex." July 26, 2009. (August 25, 2011). http://www.prevention.com/health/health/sex-relationships/healthy-teeth-for-better-sex/article/c49d023e402b2210VgnVCM10000030281eac____
- Sasse, Kent. "Weight Loss Tip. Brush Your Teeth an Hour Earlier." Sasseguide.com. (August 24, 2011). http://www.sasseguide.com/blog/weight-loss-tip-brush-your-teeth-an-hour-earlier/
- ScienceDaily. "Healthy Gums May Lead to Healthy Lungs." January 18, 2011. (August 26, 2011). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118143224.htm
- Sutton, Amy L. "Dental Care and Oral Health Sourcebook, Third Edition." Omnigraphics, Inc. 2008.
- Svoboda, Elizabeth. "7 Surprising Ways to Boost Your Brain." Prevention. (August 26, 2011). http://online.prevention.com/7waystoboostyourbrain/list/3.shtml