Your body is made of complex, interconnected parts.

It’s easy to think of your oral health as cut-and-dry and lacking the complex relationships other parts of your body have. While this mindset can simplify the way you care for your oral health, it can also make it seem like poor oral health only affects your mouth, leaving you feeling like you’re out of options if your oral hygiene routine isn’t solving all of your oral health issues. In reality, your mouth is just as complex as other parts of your body. It has a myriad of relationships with other body systems, which makes it even more important for you to care for your oral health. If you’re hoping to learn more about the role your oral health plays in your overall health or new ways you can care for your teeth, here are a few facts about the mouth-body connection.

1. Poor oral health is common in America.

Unfortunately, cavities and gum disease are relatively common in America; only 30% of adults report that they floss daily, while 32% report never flossing at all. As a result, almost half of all adults aged 30 and over have gum disease, and 1 in 4 adults have untreated cavities.

2. Oral health issues increase inflammation in your body.

When your body detects an infection, its natural response is to increase inflammation throughout your body. This signals to your brain that something is wrong and, in turn, helps your body fight off the invading bacteria better. As a result, oral health issues, like gum disease or deep decay, can trigger inflammation throughout your body. If your gum disease goes untreated for an extended period of time, the resulting inflammation lingers longer than it should, potentially leading to adverse effects throughout the rest of your body.

3. Gum disease is linked to many long-term diseases.

Over time, lingering inflammation can cause or contribute to many health issues. Gum disease has been linked to an increased risk of stroke or heart disease because the inflammation it causes boosts plaque production and, along with it, the likelihood that a blood clot will form. Oral bacteria have even been found in the blood clots of patients who suffered a stroke. When the bacteria from periodontitis gets into your bloodstream, it can also cause infections in other parts of your body. Healthy immune systems are usually able to fight off the bacteria before they cause an infection, but if you’re immunocompromised, there’s an increased risk of getting infections like endocarditis, which is a serious infection in the inner lining of your heart. Gum disease also makes it four to seven times more likely that pregnant women will give birth to premature or low-birthweight babies, which, in turn, increases the likelihood the babies will suffer from short- and long-term health complications.

4. Diabetes and gum disease have a complex relationship.

The complex relationship between diabetes and gum disease can result in the two conditions feeding off of each other in both negative or positive ways. If you have diabetes, you’re vulnerable to infections and, therefore, are more likely to contract gum disease, which, in turn, can actually raise your blood sugar and make it harder to control your diabetes. Since this relationship goes both ways, it can also work in your favor; treating your gum disease can improve your diabetes by helping you maintain better control over your blood sugar.

5. A sick body can lead to a sick mouth.

Just as the health of your mouth can affect the health of your body, your overall health can affect your mouth. Illnesses like diabetes and autoimmune disorders can make you more vulnerable to gum disease, while other illnesses and medications can cause dry mouth. This might not sound like a big deal, but saliva is a cavity-fighting powerhouse, clearing your mouth of debris and fighting bacteria; chronic dry mouth leaves your teeth vulnerable to decay.

6. Your mouth can help dentists diagnose overall health issues.

Several different illnesses can cause symptoms in your mouth that your dentist may be able to use to diagnose you or recommend you to a specialist who can examine you more closely. Your dentist will keep an eye out for signs of oral cancer during your dental evaluations, but they may also spot symptoms of other illnesses in your mouth, like HIV/AIDS, leukemia, or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It might be an unexpected way to reach a diagnosis, but the sooner you can get treatment, the better!

7. Mouth-breathing while you sleep increases your risk for oral and whole-body disorders.

While mouth-breathing in your sleep sounds more unpleasant for your spouse or college roommate than anything else, it actually carries with it quite a few risks for your dental and overall health. Your mouth often dries out when you breathe through it at night, which keeps saliva from fighting bacteria. As a result, you’re more vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease if you do this on a regular basis. It can also lead to bad breath and pain in your temporomandibular joint, or the joints of your jaw, which may require treatment by a dentist.

Additionally, breathing through your mouth regularly may indicate that you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, which is when you stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. Sleep apnea can result in complications, such as fatigue, cardiovascular issues, and increased risks with surgery or certain medications. As a result, it’s always a wise idea to get checked out by a sleep doctor if you’re a regular mouth-breather at night.

8. Prevention is the best medicine.

This famous saying holds true for your oral and overall health alike; the best way you can stay healthy is to prevent issues from arising in the first place. When it comes to your oral health, this means you need to commit yourself to visiting your dentist twice a year and implementing a regular and thorough oral hygiene routine at home. You should brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day, as well as floss and use mouthwash at least once a day. Each step in your routine is important because it cleans an area of your teeth that the other steps simply can’t reach. Once you’re used to the routine, it’ll take you less time to complete it.

9. The right oral hygiene tools can boost your oral health.

Brushing your teeth too hard, too often, or with abrasive materials can wear down your enamel over time, so it’s wise to brush your teeth gently with an electric or soft-bristled toothbrush. Additionally, you can choose a toothpaste and mouthwash that focus on improving a certain aspect of your oral health, such as toothpaste for sensitive gums or mouthwash that aims to help prevent cavities or gingivitis. It’s also important to choose a toothpaste that has fluoride in it, as many studies have found that fluoride strengthens teeth and helps prevent cavities.

10. Lifestyle changes can improve your oral and overall health.

Maintaining a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine are widely known to be better for your overall health, but did you know that they’re good for your oral health, too? Fruits and vegetables provide necessary vitamins and minerals to your body, including your teeth, without introducing as much bacteria-fueling sugars as sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods. In fact, fruits and vegetables can actually help remove plaque from your teeth as you chew. Plus, not only will regular exercise likely lower your risk of many health issues like heart disease, but some studies have shown that exercise might help heal gum disease by giving your immune system a boost.

The human body is complex—even the smallest ripple seems to spread out and impact nearly every part of your body. Thankfully, you can use this to your advantage. If a dedicated oral hygiene routine isn’t protecting your teeth on its own, you may want to try improving your diet or exercising regularly. With a little work, you’ll be able to live a longer, healthier life, with much less time and money spent at your dentist’s office!