As a kid, brushing your teeth may have seemed like a hassle, but as an adult, you should be aware of how important healthy teeth and gums really are. Oral health goes hand in hand with your overall health. Think of your mouth as a window to your body's health.

First of all, many of the foods that help your body build strong muscles and bones also build strong teeth and healthy gums. Dairy products, breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, and lean meat, fish, and poultry all contribute to healthy teeth and a healthy body, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA).

In addition, good oral health has been linked with prevention or better management of the following conditions.

Cardiovascular disease. Brushing and flossing may reduce your risk of a heart attack. One study in the Journal of Dental Research indicated a strong link between gum disease and an increased likelihood of blood clots that could lead to a heart attack or a stroke. In addition, another study, this time published in the Journal of Periodontology, shows that poor oral hygiene can cause more harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream, causing an increased risk for heart disease.

Diabetes. Gum infections have been called "the sixth complication of diabetes," because people with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease. Researchers are exploring a possible two-way connection between the conditions to see if treating gum disease improves diabetes management, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

HIV/AIDS. Mouth lesions and other oral conditions may be the first sign of HIV infection, and are used to determine the stage of infection and to follow its progression to AIDS, according to the CDC.

Osteoporosis. Studies in post-menopausal women suggest that bone loss in the lower jaw may be related to the skeletal bone loss seen in osteoporosis, according to the CDC. In fact, dental x-rays may be an effective way to identify those who are at risk of getting osteoporosis, according to research done at the Academic Center for Dentistry Amsterdam.

Pregnancy complications. Gum disease has been linked to premature birth when bacteria from a pregnant woman's mouth winds up in the placenta or amniotic fluid. In fact, some research suggests that pregnant women who have periodontal (gum) disease are up to seven times more like to deliver their baby early and to have a smaller baby.

In addition, there are many other conditions that often show up in the mouth before they appear in the rest of the body, including certain cancers, eating disorders, syphilis, gonorrhea, and substance abuse, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

To enjoy a healthier, and in turn, longer life, you should resolve to practice good oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing daily and scheduling regular dental checkups. A dentist may be your first line of defense in the fight against many conditions.