Behind the Smile: How a Healthy Mouth Can Mean a Healthier You

Illustration for article titled Behind the Smile: How a Healthy Mouth Can Mean a Healthier You
Photo: kurhan (Shutterstock)

With all the discussion about teeth whitening on TV, on the internet, in your dentist’s office, and in magazines, people often forget there is more in your mouth to be concerned with besides the color of your teeth. You must not ignore your gums.


Did you know that there is a direct correlation between your heart health and your gums? The same bacteria that infect the gums and cause gingivitis and periodontitis also travel to blood vessels in other parts of the body, where they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage. This can cause tiny blood clots which then can lead to heart attack and stroke. Gum disease is painless, so most people have no idea that gingivitis has started.

What is gingivitis? Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, it is reversible. Gingivitis begins when plaque, a sticky, colorless, or pale yellow film filled with bacteria that is constantly forming on your teeth, causes infections in the gums and bones—leading to tooth decay.

Gingivitis causes your gums to become inflamed, tender, red, swollen, and prone to bleeding. If gingivitis is not treated, you can develop periodontitis—an advanced form of gum disease. Periodontitis impacts the bones that hold your teeth in place. Left untreated, it can ruin the gums, bones, and tissues connected to your teeth.

The final stage of gum disease is advanced periodontitis. This is when the fibers and bone supporting your teeth are destroyed. It can impact your bite, and teeth may need to be removed. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), signs that you might have gum disease include:

  • consistently bad taste or breath
  • Permanent teeth that are separating or loose
  • gums that easily bleed
  • gums that are swollen, red, or tender
  • gums that have pulled away from your teeth

The good news is that gum disease is preventable. Here are a few ways you can help keep your gums healthy.


1. Floss

2. Brush 2x a day

3. Stop smoking

4. Get regular dental cleanings

5. Use a fluoride toothpaste

6. Use a mouthwash (make certain it has the American Dental Association Seal ADA)


There are also natural alternatives to improve oral health, like oil pulling. Oil pulling is an ancient Indian folk remedy often associated with Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system from India. Those who promote the practice claim that oil pulling freshens your breath, greatly improves your oral health, and even whitens your teeth. However, there is no scientific data to prove that oil pulling can whiten your teeth.

How do you perform oil pulling? Oil pulling involves swishing oil around the mouth, using it as a mouthwash. To oil pull, put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 15–20 minutes. Using coconut oil for oil pulling is becoming increasingly popular because of its sweet flavor, but you can use any oil in your kitchen.


No matter what method you choose to maintain your oral health at home, it is important to keep your regular dental appointments, along with your annual exam with your primary care doctor. Your health may depend on it.


Dr. Renee Matthews is a leader in the healthcare industry. She can be seen on "Out of Office with Dr. Renee" in 45,000 doctor's offices. Dr. Renee is the author of "Mommy, I Can't Breathe"



I’ve been thinking about trying out oil pulling for a few months but for some reason I always look at the time it takes and go nah even though it takes almost as long to shower and apply coconut oil to my skin. Maybe I’ll just do the oil pulling while doing my regular routine. Two birds with one stone and all that.