thanksgiving-1801986_640November is a month in which people often take time to express their gratitude. You’ve probably seen friends on Facebook this month posting each day one thing they’re grateful for.

Science shows that expressing gratitude is good for more than the soul; it’s good for the heart, the mind and the body.

Because so many studies connect oral health to systemic health, it stands to reason that being thankful and expressing gratitude probably is good for your teeth and gums, too!

As you get ready to visit friends and family this Thanksgiving, consider these facts about gratitude and your health.

Gratitude Reduces Stress
Stress hormones such as cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people, according to research. It’s important to combat stress in your life, because it is linked to heart disease and cancer. It’s also linked to gum disease and other oral health problems. Keeping teeth healthy is important, and that’s especially so if you’ve gone through orthodontic treatment—you need to protect that investment!

People who are under stress may grind their teeth and clench their jaws. This can cause teeth to wear prematurely and create issues with your temporomandibular joint.

“Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,” says University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons.

Gratitude is Good for Teens’ Mental Health
Research conducted in 2012 found that “grateful teens are more likely to be happy, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and less likely to have behavior problems at school, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention.

Teens involved in the four-year study who were identified as being most grateful experienced a 17 percent increase in happiness and hopefulness, and a 15 percent decrease in feeling symptoms of depression, according to the research.

This is particularly interesting for my staff and me, because many of our patients are teenagers. We want to see you happy.

Gratitude Helps Your Heart
Feeling appreciation and positive emotions lead to beneficial changes in heart rate variability, which may be helpful in treating hypertension and reducing sudden death in patients who have congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. Gratitude also reduces heart inflammation.

Gratitude is Linked with a Better Immune System
People who are grateful have a tendency to be more optimistic in general, according to WebMD. Research shows that optimism boosts your immune system. This seems to hold true even for people with significant health issues. One study found that patients who had AIDS had more favorable health outcomes when they kept an optimistic attitude. A separate study found the same to be true for patients who were about to have surgery.

Gratitude Can Improve Your Diet
People who kept a journal to track the things they’re grateful for experienced as much as a 25 percent reduction in dietary fat intake, according to Emmons’ research. It also can be beneficial to take time to write thank you notes or call friends and family members.

“The simple feeling of gratitude can completely change your relationship with food,” says Jonathan Rizzolo, a health and fitness educator.

Rizzolo recommends taking time to be grateful for living in a country where there’s plenty of wholesome food available. It can make you more appreciative of those healthy options, which can increase your likelihood of choosing them over other less healthy options.

Your diet plays a significant role in your oral health, too. We spend time with patients counseling them on foods to stay away from to avoid damaging their brackets, arch wires and other appliances, but many of those same foods can cause damage to your teeth even if you aren’t in orthodontic treatment.

Chewy, sticky foods that can harm orthodontic appliances also can get stuck in the grooves of the teeth and the nooks created by crowded teeth. This can cause plaque and tartar formation in areas that are difficult to reach with a toothbrush or dental floss.

A diet that is void of certain nutrients may make it more difficult for tissues in your mouth to resist infection. If that’s the case, you could leave yourself susceptible to periodontal disease, which is a cause of tooth loss in adults.

The American Dental Association says you can help improve your dental health by taking these approaches to your diet:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat a variety of foods, including whole grains; fruits; vegetables; lean protein; dry beans, peas and other legumes; and dairy foods that are low in fat or fat-free.

Be Grateful for your Smile

This Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll take a moment to be thankful for your smile. Those who are in orthodontic treatment or have completed treatment have shown that they view their oral health as a priority. That provides huge benefits in terms of self-esteem and self-confidence, in addition to the oral health benefits that treatment provides.

Teeth that are in alignment are easier to care for and keep clean. Countless studies exist that prove how harmful bacteria that are present in the mouth can enter the blood stream and contribute to serious systemic health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, respiratory disease and even cancer, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.

Perhaps it may even provide some comfort to acknowledge that doing something you’re so easily in control of – focusing on a healthy diet, brushing and flossing regularly, and maintaining professional dental cleanings and checkups – can help you not only keep your teeth and gums healthy, but contribute to your overall health.

We’re Grateful for You
As for us here at Orthodontics Only, we’re taking time to express our gratitude for YOU! We wouldn’t be here if not for our patients. You’re like family to us, and we enjoy seeing you each time you visit our office. We feel a sense of pride each time one of you completes treatment and we’re able to send you out into the community with a beautiful smile that you’re proud to show others. You have choices when in comes to choosing a team to provide your orthodontic treatment, and we thank you for choosing us.

I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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