How can a healthy smile help you have a healthy life? There are actually several ways.

Probably the most obvious way is that it requires healthy teeth to chew healthy fiber rich foods like vegetables and fruits. People who have broken down or worn-down teeth and-or missing teeth often struggle with these kinds of foods, and so will avoid eating them.

This in turn makes their diet and themselves less healthy.

Many patients don’t recognize the important connection between oral health and general health. This area of study has been getting ever increasing attention from researchers and general dentists alike over the last few years.

The inflammatory substances that are released into the blood stream of a person with active dental disease can exacerbate other existing conditions in that body, such as heart disease and diabetes.

For example, a person with diabetes who has uncontrolled gum disease will sometimes have difficulty controlling his blood sugar and not really know why.

It’s also true that having diabetes makes one more likely to have gum disease, so it’s a vicious cycle. But, it’s treatable by treating both the gum disease and diabetes.

Last, but certainly not least, is the social and mental impact our smile can have on our lives. I’ve seen patients’ lives change dramatically when they go from trying to hide their teeth when they “smile” to having a bright beautiful smile they are proud of. I’ve known people who wouldn’t apply for a job they really wanted because of their teeth.

Certainly a nicer smile impacts our social interactions. You might see someone regularly who you think is grumpy, but in truth she is just ashamed of her teeth so she won’t smile.

The good news is that we have so many options these days to improve or restore teeth to full health and function.

Whether it be severe wear, cavities, breakdown due to grinding or loss of teeth due to gum disease, we have great options to restore or replace teeth.

People don’t hesitate to go to the dentist when they have pain, but I would encourage you to be more proactive and seek regular preventive care even in the absence of pain, because a lot of dental disease is silent until it gets really bad.

Here’s to the new you with a healthy mouth and body.

Dr. Liz Shelly is with Palmetto Dental Arts in Bluffton, where they practice complete care dentistry. www.palmettodental.com