It’s no secret that taking care of your pearly whites is good for your heart. Bacteria from gum disease may enter your bloodstream and trigger an immune response that causes arteries to swell, constrict, and collect plaque, all of which increase your chance of having heart problems. But it’s not only your habits at home that count. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that women who see a dentist twice a year cut their risk for stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular problems by at least a third.

“Gum disease is as bad for your heart as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Because it has few warning signs, most women don’t know they have it until their dentist tells them,” says Robert Pick, a spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Going to the dentist twice a year is what the study correlated to the benefits. Just showing up and having their teeth cleaned and their oral habits evaluated seems to have made the difference. Women with severe gum disease could be referred to a Periodontist (a specialist in gum disorders) or treated by the dentist or a Dental Hygienist, either one of whom are specifically trained to treat and help you manage gum disease.

So,women — cutting your risk of stroke, heart attacks and heart problems by a third is a big deal. Heart attacks and strokes kill more women than breast cancer, so decreasing that risk by 33 percent is something you should actively pursue. Get to your dentist and have him evaluate your mouth for gum [think “periodontal”] disease. If you do have even the beginnings of gum disease, start with a plan to manage the treatment and change the things that make it worse. In the meantime, get serious about flossing daily and brushing effectively. Normal mouthwashes do kill 99.9 percent of oral bacteria, but only for about 20 minutes! Your dentist can prescribe an inexpensive mouthwash that kills the same 99.9 percent of dangerous bacteria—but for eight hours!

Good-bye “morning breath” and “hello!” to a healthier mouth and HEART, no matter what your age!