February is the month set aside for tending to matters of the heart, and not just the frilly kind of hearts that we see on Valentine’s cards. The heart we are talking about is the one that keeps you alive. Yes, February is National Heart Health month.

Each year, the American Heart Association spends February raising awareness of heart health and what we can do to prevent heart disease. There are many things you can do to commemorate this important month. You can wear red, make a donation to a charity focused on heart health, or you can learn an important skill like CPR. All of those things can make a difference. But, believe it or not, one of the most important things you can do to make sure that your heart is healthy is to schedule a visit to your dentist.

Of course, there is no guarantee that if you keep your mouth healthy you will avoid heart disease. Studies have shown, however, that oral diseases such as periodontitis and gingivitis can contribute to heart problems. The connection between oral health and heart health is believed to be bacteria. In particular, bacteria spread from your mouth to your bloodstream. It’s believed that these bacteria cause diseases such as endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart) and atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

So what can you do to make sure that you don’t fall victim to heart disease due to the neglect of your oral health?

  • Get regular dental check-ups: Your dentist is your first line of defense when it comes to oral health. He or she can look for warning signs and help you design an oral hygiene regimen that will keep your smile healthy. Of course, it’s up to you to follow your dentist’s recommendations!
  • Eliminate poor lifestyle habits: If you smoke or use tobacco products, stop now! Not only is smoking bad for your overall health, it is terrible for your oral health.
  • Keep your mouth clean: You’ve heard it a million times but here is one more reminder—brush at least twice a day and floss daily. Starting and ending the day with a clean mouth will go a long way toward maintaining oral health.
  • Respond to warning signs: Pain, irritation, and bleeding gums can all be indications of gum disease. Don’t ignore them. Persistent bad breath and inflammation can also be a sign of a mouth condition that needs some attention.

So this February as you think about hearts and flowers, remember to think about your physical heart too. Make an appointment to see your dentist and talk about what you can do to keep your mouth in tip-top shape. By stepping up your oral care, you’re helping prevent oral-health-related heart disease.

Any time is a great time to give your heart a little love, but National Heart Month is the perfect time to go the extra mile. It’s a great time to make sure that you do everything you can to keep your mouth healthy.