5 surprising benefits you get from brushing your teeth
From avoiding respiratory infections to reducing your risk of arthritis, brushing your teeth daily comes with unexpected health rewards.
The humble toothbrush is widely considered one of the greatest inventions ever conceived – and for good reason! For thousands of years, humanity has used some version of this oral instrument to ward off bad breath, gum disease and agonizing visits to the oral surgeon. But what if we told you there was more to gain from twice-daily brushing your teeth? Like better health, fewer sick days, and the ability to read minds? All but one of those examples is true, and as you'll discover below, there's more to our daily back-and-forths and up-and-downs than meets the eye.
1. Grab a toothbrush, save your lungs
It goes without saying that the inside of your mouth is about as attractive to bacteria as the words "The Avengers" and "Star Wars" are to moviegoers. Environmental conditions are just right – and our eating habits are just poor enough (think sugars and starches) – to allow harmful bacteria to multiply and form plaque. Flossing, brushing and regular visits to the dentist help keep bacteria in check, but left alone it can lead to major problems that impact more than just our protective gums.
A 2011 study discovered a possible link between gum disease and an increase in the risk of severe respiratory infections, such as pneumonia. Researchers studying patients hospitalized for a variety of severe respiratory infections found them to have poor oral hygiene compared to a control group of healthy adults. The running theory is that harmful bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled into the lower respiratory tract, causing and/or exacerbating an infection. Disgusting? It gets worse ...
2. Brush back a bacteria that's partial to tumors
When it comes to gum disease, there's one bacteria that's almost always game to play along: Fusobacterium nucleatum. This little organism is indigenous to our mouths and, along with other bacteria, loves to thrive in conditions that favor poor oral hygiene. For the longest time, it was considered a generally benign player, a clever disguise unmasked after Israeli researchers earlier this year discovered high levels of the sneaky F. nucleatum in human colorectal tumors.
It turns out that F. nucleatum may place a kind of welcome mat out for tumor cells, inhibiting the ability of killer cells to attack cancer. The researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered that the bacteria likely isn't doing this to intentionally kill us, but because it prefers the low-oxygen environments that tumors generate. Either way, all trust has been thrown out the window. And we completely understand if you need to run and brush your teeth straight away.
3. Looking to conceive? Consult your dentist
While couples interested in conceiving often make preparations with family doctors before proceeding, it might also be a good idea to check with your dentist too. A 2011 study found that women suffering from gum disease took seven months to conceive, while those who brushed and flossed regularly became pregnant after only five. Chemicals released by bacteria that cause gum disease are thought to enter the bloodstream, stressing the body and delaying conception.
"It exerts a negative influence on fertility that is of the same order of magnitude as obesity, " said study researcher Roger Hart.
4. More brushing equals less snacking
You know that fresh breath, clean teeth sensation we all get after brushing? Just like we avoid puddles after washing our cars, the same is true for snacking after cleaning our teeth. Not only are we generally reluctant to want to eat right away, but the threat of an ill taste from pairing toothpaste with certain foods (we're looking at you, oranges!) is enough to make anyone take pause. The best time to hit the brush and avoid snacking is directly after breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Want even more incentive? According to one source, brushing your teeth for two minutes, three times a day, can burn as much as 3,500 calories per year!
5. Less brushing may equal more aching
Sure, toothaches and sore gums are a painful inconvenience, but imagine now if that pain spread to every joint in your body. A study published in 2013 found an interesting link between the primary bacteria that causes gum disease – P. gingivalis – and the formation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers studying mice with a similar form of RA found that the addition of P. gingivalis worsened their condition – increasing the progression and severity of bone and cartilage breakdown.
It's important to note that while the study wasn't done on people, it's alarming that there's still a chance poor oral hygiene could have an impact. In fact, based on everything above, it's likely now clear that your trusty toothbrush isn't just a convenient instrument, but a bonafide weapon.
Now if you'll excuse us, we need to go and brush our teeth for the next 15 minutes just to be on the safe side.
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