Traditional dental health tends to focus on basics like cavities or teeth whitening.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that there’s also a powerful “mouth-body connection” at play. In other words: The health of your mouth can affect health and well-being everywhere else in the body.

A report from the U.S. surgeon general perhaps said it best: “The mouth is a mirror of health and disease in the body.”

Most of us see our teeth every day when we look in the mirror. But when was the last time you actually studied them closely?

Here are four great ways to check out your teeth for clues as to what’s going on elsewhere in the body.

Sign #1: Your teeth are flat at the bottom.

If the edges of your teeth are flat, it might be due to grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. In that case, you might have an underlying sleep disorder.

How does this affect your teeth? When you grind and clench at night, you put your teeth under tremendous forces that wear away enamel for good. Wear down enamel enough, and you risk getting down to the root of the tooth — which can be painful and require expensive dental work.

What To Do: Treat the true cause of your grinding and clenching, not just your symptoms. Protecting your teeth with a night guard doesn’t cut it, since even though you’ll be protecting your teeth, you’ll still be damaging your jaw joint.

Instead, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study. Nighttime grinding is the way the body reopens the airway when struggling to breathe. The root cause could be sleep apnea, and a sleep medicine doctor can help you find ways to manage it.

Sign #2: You have bleeding or red gums.

Bleeding or red, puffy gums is a common sign of gum disease. But it’s also an indicator of overall inflammation, which affects health everywhere else in your body.

When your body is reacting with inflammation in your mouth, it’s chronically stressed. In fact, gum disease has been linked to a range of other chronic issues, including heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and osteoporosis. It’s even been associated with giving birth preterm.

Because of this inflammation link, research has also shown that treating gum disease can lead to better health outcomes in people with heart disease and diabetes, and can reduce joint pain and overall inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

What To Do: Do everything you can to prevent gum disease. Brush (gently) after meals. Floss daily. Use a tongue scraper. Have regular teeth cleanings. Eat a nutritious diet high in alkaline foods and limit or avoid acidic processed foods. Healthy gums look pink and firm, not swollen and reddish.

I find it’s common to think that we can worry about this stuff later, but gum disease isn’t reversible. Once you have gum disease, you can only stop its progression. Make sure you partner with a dentist who isn’t just concerned with treating you but is also thinking about how your mouth affects the health of the rest of your body.

Read the other half of the list on Mind Body Green here: