Life expectancy has gone way up in the last century. People born in the U.S. today can expect to live an average of nearly 80 years.1 While good genes are important to longevity, healthy behaviors are actually more influential in helping people survive into old age.
Many of the same practices that can help you live longer also assist in keeping your smile healthy for a lifetime. In fact, older people are keeping their natural teeth longer than ever. Fortunately, research shows that starting healthy habits, even later in life, can significantly improve your health and longevity.
1. Eat a balanced diet.
Fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and dairy products make up a healthy diet that’s linked to longevity and a healthy smile. The nutrients and antioxidants from plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains appear to be particularly important in promoting a long life and great oral health.
Try mouth-friendly snacks like cheese and low-sugar yogurt for teeth-strengthening calcium and vitamin D and drink plenty of water to help prevent cavity-causing dry mouth. You can also avoid extra calories and cavities by limiting sugary and starchy foods and sugary drinks, including sticky candies, potato chips, sport drinks and sodas.
Check these dietary guidelines to make sure you’re not exceeding your recommended daily calorie intake.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity (a body mass index higher than 30) shortens life expectancy and is a risk factor for early death. Excess weight is also a sign of overeating and consuming too many unhealthy foods, which puts you at risk for cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues.
Are you maintaining a healthy weight? Use this calculator to determine your body mass index (BMI) and talk to your physician to determine a healthy weight for yourself.
3. Exercise and reduce stress.
Exercise can reduce the risk for disease and limited mobility, while raising life expectancy. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of activity a day, which can include walking, jogging, strength training, flexibility exercises and more.
Exercise and meditation can also reduce stress. Stress has been linked to a decreased lifespan and increased illness, including these oral health problems:
Teeth clenching and grinding
Cold and canker sores
Stress makes it harder to fight off infections that can cause disease in your mouth and the rest of your body.
4. Practice great oral hygiene.
Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day for two minutes each time, flossing daily and visiting your dentist regularly are obviously smart ways to maintain great oral health. But did you know oral health is also connected to good overall health? Numerous studies have found that people with gum disease may be at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.
During a routine exam, your dentist can potentially detect signs of numerous diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and blood disorders like leukemia. Early detection can be lifesaving.
5. Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol.
Tobacco usage and heavy alcohol consumption have been linked to many life-threatening diseases. Tobacco can cause heart and lung diseases, cancer, stroke and much more. And the average smoker dies 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.2 All forms of tobacco (including vaping) also have negative effects on oral health. Along with an increased risk of oral cancer, tobacco usage can damage teeth and gums, and cause tooth loss, bad breath and yellow teeth.
Drinking alcohol is linked to liver, heart and pancreatic disease, along with an increased risk of early death. In addition, alcohol can cause cavities due to sugar and dry mouth. It can also lead to gum disease, oral cancer and more.
It’s recommended that women drink no more than one serving of alcohol per day and men consume no more than two drinks a day.