Many people don’t put too much thought into brushing their teeth. For one to have completely healthy teeth they should brush after every meal. But more than half of us don’t bother to remember. In fact some only brush their teeth once a day. Remember that when you don’t brush your teeth you don’t have that bright smile that people love to look at and you risk getting serious diseases. Here are a few problems that can happen when you least expect it.
“A lot of cases of bad breath don’t originate in the mouth,” says Ted Raybould, D.M.D., a professor of dentistry at the University of Kentucky. “One common source is the sinuses.” Inflammation of your nasal passages can be caused by allergies or a chronic infection, and can breed bad breath in two ways. First, a stuffy nose forces you to inhale and exhale through your mouth. This dries up saliva that would otherwise kill bacteria, the source of most bad breath. Second, post-nasal drip is a potent producer of halitosis. “Mucus flows down the back of your nose and onto the back of your tongue,” says Mel Rosenberg, Ph.D., a microbiologist at Tel Aviv University. This accumulating slime feeds bacteria, which in turn breed volatile sulfur compounds, the chemicals that create foul oral odor.
Fix It: Start by changing your rinse-and-spit routine. “Gargle with mouthwash before bed, rather than in the morning,” says Rosenberg. “At night, your mouth produces less saliva, so the bacteria aren’t being washed away as regularly.” And the longer bacteria linger, the more sulfurous stink bombs they can create. “Gargle for half a minute and target the back of your tongue,” he says. “Tilt your head back and breathe through your nose.” If that doesn’t do away with the stench, you may actually be harboring a nasty sinus infection that could spread to other body parts. Book an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist for a diagnosis. They may prescribe antibiotics or allergy medication to clear your sinuses for good. (To locate one, go to entnet.org and click on “Find an ENT.”)
Cold sores feel bad and look worse, but that’s minor compared with the heart havoc the herpes virus can wreak. In a study published in the journal Circulation, researchers tested people for an antibody that shows prior infection with herpes simplex 1 (HSV1), then monitored them for 4 years. Those whose blood contained the antibody were twice as likely to have suffered a heart attack. The reason? HSV1 lies dormant in the nervous system until stress, illness, or fatigue causes a cold sore. Researchers suspect that when the virus reactivates, it triggers a nerve response in the coronary artery that may lead to dangerous clotting.
Fix It: Megadoses of stress can bring on a cold sore and a heart attack, so taming tension could help you avoid both. In a recent German study, 21 cold-sore sufferers were assigned either 5 weeks of hypnosis, in which they were taught to cope with stress, or a placebo treatment. After 6 months, hypnotized subjects reported up to 43 percent fewer cold-sore symptoms and lower levels of stress. Go to asch.net to find a certified clinical hypnotherapist near you. Or consider another method of stress relief, such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Research shows these can quell tension and increase immune-system cells.
Blood on your toothbrush means a raging infection. “It’s the first indicator of an unhealthy mouth,” says Dr. Zero. Gums become infected when plaque, a bacteria-laden film that forms on your teeth after you eat, is allowed to harden at the gum line. And tooth loss and heart disease aren’t your only risks: Gingivitis has also been linked to a lethal cancer. In a recent Harvard study of more than 52,000 men, those with infected gums were 63 percent more prone to pancreatic cancer than those with inflammation-free mouths. Researchers blame the bacteria, which they think reacts with digestive chemicals to create fertile conditions for cancer-cell growth.
Fix It: Sugar is an enemy to both your mouth and your pancreas. The sweet stuff worsens gingivitis by feeding the plaque that causes it. And a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that people who regularly added sugar to coffee, tea, or cereal were 69 percent more prone to pancreatic cancer than those who didn’t. Replace your 2 spoonfuls with an artificial sweetener, such as Splenda, or eat walnuts. They’re high in methionine, an amino acid that lowered pancreatic-cancer risk by nearly 70 percent in a Swedish study.