Each year the multi-billion-dollar health and wellness industry introduces more fitness fads that promise greater health as long as you prescribe to their levels of daily exercise, balanced diets and sleep. 

I have never seen a health trend that prescribes better teeth-brushing habits, increased flossing and regular dental visits as part of its program, but I wish I would! I admit, a new Peloton or a Whole 30 diet plan seems more exciting than a regular oral hygiene routine, but the connection between your oral health and your overall health should not be ignored. 

Oral health is much more than just healthy teeth. A recent study by University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry explained how it includes the health of many other anatomical structures like the gums, bones and muscles. Many oral health issues stem from plaque resulting from inadequate dental hygiene. 

Bacteria feed off plaque, which eventually develops into gum disease. Sore, bleeding gums provide an entry point for bacteria to travel into the bloodstream and organs and throughout the body. Bacteria in the bloodstream cause respiratory and circulatory conditions or blood clots, which can cause a stroke. A growing body of research has also identified a connection between oral health and chronic diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. 

I tell my patients to approach removing plaque as they would a splinter. Most people stop everything to work at removing the splinter, knowing that it could eventually fester, cause an infection, and lead to more serious issues. 

The same goes for plaque; it’s best to remove it ASAP! 

I also tell my patients to think of oral health maintenance in the same way as they care for their homes. In this scenario, the house they currently live in is the house they will live in forever, just like their one and only mouth! 

Ignoring an isolated issue like a leaky roof or a drafty window can cause damage throughout their entire home. Just like preventing a damaged roof or window, regular hygiene and dental appointments are imperative. Not only is it impossible to replicate professional cleanings at home, many in-office instruments, such as digital X-rays and intraoral cameras, can catch issues early to save time, money, and discomfort later.

Remember, as you strive to improve your overall health, include your oral hygiene routine as a part of the plan! It will have as much impact on your lifespan and quality of life as a healthy diet and exercise.

Gary Heller, DDS practices at the Hilton Head Island office of ROC Dental Group.