What's good for your Heart and your Teeth?

In the month of February, many of us think of Valentine's Day, a day that started as a feast day for St. Valentine, the patron saint of love and affection. It changed when Chaucer decided to make it more poetic and romantic and encouraged it to be a day of expressing one's love.

We think of the heart, of course as the romantic center of our existence, but we also know that it is what keeps us as humans healthy and alive. So, we know that it's important to maintain good health through exercise, eating healthy and getting an appropriate amount of rest. But, did you know that many of the foods that are recommended for a healthy heart are also recommended for healthy teeth? It's like getting a 2 for 1 deal, more bang for your buck, just plain smart!

Although this romantic, candy filled, Hallmark card exchange holiday is what we typically think of in the month of February, this month also boasts National Children's Dental Health Month. A month to bring awareness, educate and promote healthy oral habits that will last a lifetime. It's even more exciting to know that through eating certain foods, you are not only promoting good oral health, but you are also helping their hearts.

The American Dental Association has sponsored this program every February for the last 63 years. The goal is to prevent tooth decay, the most common chronic disease in children. By practicing good oral hygiene like brushing with a fluoride toothpaste (when age appropriate) after meals or at least two times a day and flossing if the teeth are touching, are two common ways to maintain a healthy mouth. It is also important to visit the dentist twice a year to get a full evaluation by Dr. Culp, a professional cleaning, a fluoride treatment and decay detecting x-rays as needed.

In addition, following a diet that includes certain foods adds to the prevention of tooth decay but also promotes a healthy heart. These foods include nuts, fresh fruit, vegetables, low fat or fat free milk and yogurt. These foods are naturally low in cavity producing effects when eaten in a balanced diet, and in addition, contain various properties to benefit our heart as well. Foods like these are great substitutes for crackers, gummies, chips and pretzels, which are seemingly innocent, but have a high percentage of starches. Starches are nothing more than two sugars held with a bond that is broken by an enzyme in your saliva. In just a few minutes after eating pretzels for example, the starches are broken down into their base sugars and acid production follows shortly after. This is the basis by which we can get cavities. Starches such as these are also bad for your heart but they have no nutritional value. That is why it’s better to eat a pear instead of a lollipop or nuts instead of crackers.

In celebrating the month of February, recognizing teeth and hearts, let’s begin by giving our kids’ snacks like celery, pears and low-fat or fat free milk instead of some of the other foods that can contribute to cavities. If you’d like to give them some candy for Valentine’s Day, have them eat it right after a meal, when saliva production is up, and encourage them to wash it down with some water or better yet, brush right after! You can put them to bed with their written Valentine’s cards and know that you have helped their teeth and heart stay healthy. What a great way to begin a healthy change that can last them a lifetime!

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