Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body

Do you have bleeding gums or a sore mouth? How about loose teeth or bad breath? If so, you may be among the 75 percent of Americans who have gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. And if you have it, you should take it seriously -- not just because of the problems it can cause in your mouth, but because it may boost your risk of developing a range of full-body diseases, from heart disease to cancer.

The Connection Between Mouth and Body
Gum disease is caused by bacterial infection. When you have an infection in your gums, your body tries to fight it by sending infection-fighting cells to the area, an immune response known as inflammation. Initially, inflammation helps heal the gums. But over time, if gum infections persist, your risk for other diseases increases. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why, but there are two popular theories:

  1. Chronic inflammation in the mouth may trigger damaging inflammation elsewhere in the body.
  2. Infectious bacteria in the mouth can spread throughout the body, causing infection and a domino effect of additional inflammation.

Biggest Risks of an Unhealthy Mouth
Numerous studies point to a connection between gum health and overall health. For example, one study found that compared with people who had no gum disease, those with gum disease were more likely to develop cancer -- risk went up 36 percent for lung cancer, 49 percent for kidney cancer, and 54 percent for pancreatic cancer.

In another study, researchers discovered that 93 percent of those who had gum disease were at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, compared with 63 percent of those without gum disease.

Scientists have also found that gum disease can raise cardiovascular disease risk by contributing to clot formation in the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks. Gum disease may also play a part in the development of cancer of the head and neck, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, stillbirth, osteoporosis and stroke.

How to Get a Healthy Mouth and Body
Fortunately, remedying gum disease may help lower your chances of developing these problems. A study on gum disease and heart disease risk published in The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, found that people who had their gum disease treated had healthier artery linings six months later than those whose gum disease persisted.

“Taking care of your teeth and gums may actually help you maintain overall health,” says Dr. Samuel Low, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Here’s how to make sure your mouth and body both stay healthy:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat foods rich in minerals and vitamins.
  • Cut back on sugary, sticky snacks, which can encourage plaque growth.
  • Brush your teeth after every meal and before bed.
  • Floss at least nightly.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups.
  • Visit your dentist if your gums are bleeding or swollen.

5 Surprising Pregnancy Symptoms

When it comes to pregnancy, there’s the stuff everyone talks about -- morning sickness, back pain, swollen feet. And then there’s the stuff no one mentions, like gum disease, hemorrhoids and urinary leakage. Of course these aren’t exactly topics for dinner parties, but they’re real, and the more you know, the better you’ll be able to cope. We give you the low-down on five little-known pregnancy symptoms and what you can do about them.

1. Varicose Veins
You can thank fluctuating hormones and your family tree for varicose veins during pregnancy. Research shows that pregnant women who develop the unsightly and uncomfortable bulges tend to have much higher progesterone levels than those who get through those nine months varicose-vein-free. “Hemorrhoids -- another pregnancy symptom -- are really just varicose veins in the rectal area. And, if you’re really lucky, you might even get them on your vagina, which can be extremely painful,” says Cynthia Flynn, Certified Nurse-Midwife at The Birth Center in Bryn Mawr, Penn.  To relieve some of the discomfort, Flynn recommends wearing a panty girdle. To prevent or minimize varicose veins elsewhere, keep your weight in check, exercise daily, elevate your feet and legs when sitting, and don’t cross your legs or ankles. Also, don’t sit or stand for long periods of time, try to take walking or stretching breaks every half hour. You may also benefit from graduated-compression stockings, which are tight at the ankle and get gradually looser as they ascend, to help push blood back up your legs towards your heart.

2. Pregnancy Gingivitis
You wouldn’t think that pregnancy and oral health go hand in hand, but good oral hygiene is important for a healthy pregnancy. Pregnancy gingivitis, or red, inflamed gums, affects 50 to 70 percent of pregnant women, including those who had healthy gums before becoming pregnant. Hormonal changes are at the root of this one, too. Several studies have linked the condition to premature labor and underweight babies, and yet, says San Francisco dentist Irena Vaksman, “It’s not brought up in prenatal visits.” Vaksman recommends two dental cleanings during pregnancy -- one at around 14 weeks and a follow-up in the seventh or eight month -- and vigilant at-home oral care, as in brushing and flossing three times a day.

3. Nasal Congestion
While it helps the little one inside you grow, estrogen, the other pregnancy hormone, also boosts blood flow to mucous membranes, and causes them to swell and soften. Increased blood flow swells and inflames the nasal passages, leading to what can be a non-stop stuffy nose during pregnancy. “A lot of people think they have a cold,” says Dr. Robert Atlas, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, “but in fact it’s perfectly normal.” That doesn’t make it fun, but Atlas recommends avoiding medication, which can have rebound effects. Instead, use a saline nasal spray and run a humidifier in your room at night.

4. Urinary Incontinence
As if flatulence and belching aren’t mortifying enough, urinary leakage is also common during pregnancy, especially toward the end -- due to pressure on the pelvic floor. To avoid little accidents, Atlas recommends going to the bathroom more frequently or whenever there is a bathroom nearby. To help prevent incontinence issues, Dr. Sarah Wagner, OB/GYN at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., advises strengthening the pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises. To find these muscles, stop your flow while urinating -- then practice that same motion throughout the day.

5. GI Distress
Wondering why even the blandest food keeps giving you heartburn? That pesky hormone progesterone slows down the digestive tract, while your growing baby is pressing against the intestines. Put it together, says Flynn, and it’s a recipe for constipation, gas, GERD, bloating and, if you continually strain on the toilet, hemorrhoids. To avoid the latter, says Flynn, aim for softer stools than you’re used to, which can be achieved by drinking lots of water, walking 30 minutes a day and eating a diet high in fiber. To keep heartburn at bay, avoid tight-fitting clothes, eat small meals slowly throughout the day, drink less while eating and don’t lie down immediately after a meal.

Happiness Secrets -- From the Happiest People We Know

If you’re like most people, you’re certain you’ll be happier once you land that new job, attract a date or buy a new house. The only problem? Research shows that we overestimate the amount of joy we’ll get from these big life changes, says Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California at Riverside and author of The Myths of Happiness.

The findings aren’t nearly as much of a buzz-kill as they might seem, though: While the momentous event you’re waiting for might not bring a lasting smile, there are little things you can do to make everyday life more blissful -- no life-altering changes necessary. So we tapped a few happiness experts who’ve mastered the art of contentedness for their best tips on how to lead a more pleasure-packed life today.

Happiness Secret No. 1: Start writing thank-you letters to people you’re grateful for -- even if you never send them.

  • Be-happy expert: Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California at Riverside and author of The Myths of Happiness

  • Why it works: It’s human nature to dwell on what’s going wrong in your life, but thinking about the things that are going well can help you tune out some of that negativity. “It doesn’t mean you deny the negative,” Lyubomirksy says, “but when you practice expressing gratitude, it redirects your attention on what you might be thankful for.” Since relationships are so key to happiness, focusing on what you appreciate about the special people in your life is particularly helpful. Try to express your gratitude about once a week for best results.

Happiness Secret No. 2: Do something new each day, whether it’s listening to a new song or sampling a new dish at your favorite restaurant.

  • Be-happy expert: Lisa Cypers Kamen, a positive psychology coach and author of Harvesting Happiness

  • Why it works: The excitement that we derive from new things fades over time. No matter how wonderful your new man is, for instance, you can’t stay on cloud nine forever. Eventually, we all return to our baseline level of happiness. Novelty and variety, however, can help counteract this effect. New experiences -- no matter how small -- re-introduce some childlike playfulness into your routine. And just as children seem to experience more delight and wonder than adults, you’ll start to experience more of that natural high in your life too. “Tapping into this kind of play creates more simple pleasure and joy,” Kamen says.

Happiness Secret No. 3: When you’re stressed about something that might go wrong, try to envision the worst-case scenario -- in great detail.

  • Be-happy expert: Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

  • Why it works: Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers called this technique “the premeditation of evils,” and it’s Burkeman’s favorite trick. “Asking yourself how badly things could go, when you do it calmly and soberly, has the wonderful effect of alleviating worry,” he says. Although it seems counterintuitive, it’s effective because we almost always blow our anxieties about future events out of proportion -- and this becomes obvious when you sit down to list what your worries actually are. Even if your worst-case scenario were to somehow come true, thinking about it will make you feel better. “Rather than persuading yourself that everything's going to work out well, it's far more powerful to know you could cope if things didn't,” Burkeman says.

Happiness Secret No. 4: Improve your smile.

  • Be-happy expert: Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home and The Happiness Project

  • Why it works: There’s scientific research to back the “fake it till you make it” approach. “Facial expressions don’t merely reflect emotions, they also influence emotions,” Rubin says. “Studies show the mere act of smiling makes people happier.” This trick can help even if you’re just grinning to yourself while you’re at your desk -- but remembering to do it regularly can be difficult. That’s why Rubin’s recommends smiling whenever you see a traffic light -- or anything else that you encounter often.

What are your fool-proof happiness secrets? Share them below or @Completely_You

Stay Healthy When Everyone Else Is Sick

This isn’t just the start of holiday season; it’s germ season as well. That’s why many of us will be hacking away and looking a lot like Rudolph before winter is over. “The average adult gets one to three respiratory illnesses each year, and women, especially if they’re moms, tend to catch even more,” says Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona and coauthor of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu.

So how can you avoid getting sick? You already know you need to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. And yes, you should get a flu shot now, even if you received one last year (visit to find out where you can get the vaccine near you). But don’t stop there. Here are six surprising ways to help stay healthy and keep you and your family sniffle-free all season long: 

1. Fill up on fiber.
It not only helps you feel full and lose weight, it also boosts your immune system. New research from the University of Illinois shows that fiber, which is abundant in fresh fruits and veggies, stimulates the activity of our white blood cells, which battle infection and help you stay healthy. And don’t forget to add garlic to your dishes. It contains allicin, a potent germ-fighter. Cook it to release the most benefits, and try to eat some at least three times each week.

2. Get your dose of D.
During winter months, it’s hard for your body to make enough vitamin D from sun exposure, and few foods contain a good amount. But vitamin D is the key to a strong immune system. According to recent research published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection, people downing 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily came down with 70 percent fewer colds and flu than those taking a placebo. Other research shows that getting enough vitamin D may lead to less cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other serious diseases.

3. Fend off the flu with sex.
According to researchers at Wilkes University, making love just once or twice a week boosts your levels of flu-fighting antibodies by a whopping 30 percent. If your loved one is sick, however, stay away.

4. Avoid the worst germ hot-spots.

  • Elevator buttons. Push them with your keys, a credit card or a gloved finger. Ditto for ATM screens.
  • The office fridge, microwave and water fountain. Use a paper towel to open them and turn them on.
  • Your co-worker’s candy bowl. If other people have been dipping in, there’s more than M&M’S in there.
  • The handle of your supermarket cart. Carry sanitizing wipes with you to disinfect it before shopping.
  • Public restrooms. After washing your hands, turn off all faucets with paper towels and be sure to open the exit door with one (it’s the germiest spot of all).

5. Choose the right cleaning products.
Using the wrong ones could end up simply pushing the germs around instead of killing them. Unfortunately, most green products won’t do the job. Only the sprays, liquids and wipes labeled “disinfecting” or “sanitizing” will kill germs, including the cold and flu viruses. Look for an Environmental Protection Agency number, which ensures the product has been tested for effectiveness, and follow product instructions exactly.

6. Wash, wash and wash some more.
You know you should wash your hands before you eat to stay healthy. But Gerba advises also scrubbing up as soon as you enter your home or workplace to wash away all the germs you picked up getting there. Rub the top and bottoms of your hands under water (it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold) for as long as it would take you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Soap won’t actually kill germs, but it helps them slide off your hands. Nowhere to wash? Use a hand-sanitizing gel with at least 60 percent alcohol, which protects against the flu by destroying the outer layer of the virus.

What to Eat to Stay Healthy All Winter

This winter, a whopping 20 percent of Americans will come down with a bad case of the flu. But you don’t have to be one of them! Research shows that, in addition to getting your flu shot, eating certain foods can help you avoid the flu -- as well as colds and illness in general. Here’s what to add to your grocery cart.


Probiotics, the healthy bacteria in yogurt, literally crowds out invading bad bacteria that’s trying to get into your system. That’s why, in one study, people who consumed a yogurt drink that contained Lactobacillus reuteri over an 80-day period took 33 percent fewer sick days. To make sure you’re getting a good dose of probiotics, look for the words “live bacteria” and “active cultures” on the label. Bonus: Yogurt is rich in calcium, which is essential for strong, healthy teeth.


This favorite flavor-booster contains allicin, a compound that fights off bacteria. According to a large British study, people who downed a daily garlic capsule for three winter months were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. If they did get sick, they suffered for about four fewer days. Adding cooked garlic to your food might be even more effective.


According to a Harvard study, drinking black or green tea can rev up your immune system’s T cells so they destroy bacteria more quickly. And the antioxidants in green tea are great for your teeth. A large Japanese study found that every cup reduces gum inflammation.


Omega-3 fatty acids, found in this flavorful fish, help cells remove toxins and take in nutrients more efficiently. And a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who consumed the most omega-3s decreased their risk of gum disease by 22 percent.

Chicken Soup

Don’t wait until you’re sick to serve up some soup. Cysteine, an amino acid released from chicken during cooking, helps calm the usual over-the-top response your immune system has to cold germs that causes many of the worst symptoms from a stuffed-up nose to a wracking cough. And it doesn’t have to be homemade. A University of Nebraska study published in Chest found that most supermarket brands prevented and alleviated cold symptoms just as effectively.

What foods do you stock up on in the winter? Share below or @Completely_You