Losing extra pounds, revving up physical activity, and eating nutritious foods may give you a new reason to smile.

Healthy teeth and gums are more common in active people who eat nutritiously and aren't overweight, a new study shows.

The study appears in the Journal of Periodontology. It was conducted by researchers including Nabil Bissada, DDS, chairman of the periodontics department at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.

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Healthy Body, Healthy Mouth

Data came from a national health survey of more than 12,000 people. The findings:

—Having all three traits — normal weight, good diet, active lifestyle — cut gum disease risk by 40 percent.

—Having two of those habits cut gum disease risk by 29 percent.

—Having one of those healthy habits cut gum disease risk by 16 percent.

Gum disease was rarest among people with all three traits. Only 7 percent of them had gum disease, compared with 18 percent of those with none of those traits.

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Benefits for the Mouth

Why did the mouth mirror overall health? The researchers note these possibilities:

—Healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables may help clear plaque off teeth.

—Obesity may promote inflammatory chemicals linked to gum disease.

—Physical activity may cut inflammation, helping the entire body (including the mouth).

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Go-for-It Goals

Here's how the researchers defined their terms:

—Moderate-intensity physical activity at least 5 times per week or vigorous intensity activity at least 3 times per week

—Normal BMI (body mass index) of 18.5 to 24.9

—High score on an index of healthy foods eaten over the past day

Moderate-intensity physical activity would include activities such as walking at a moderate or brisk pace of 3 to 4.5 miles per hour on a level terrain. Vigorous-intensity physical activity includes race walking or aerobic walking at 5 miles per hour or greater, jogging, or running. According to the CDC, in general activities in the moderate-intensity range would require 25-50 minutes to expend a moderate amount of activity, and activities in the vigorous-intensity range would require less than 25 minutes to achieve a moderate amount of activities.

Participants reported their own weight, activity level, and food habits. That leaves a little wiggle room about accuracy. Plus, the study was a one-time snapshot, not a long-term look at health.

Still, the basics — move more, ditch excess weight, and make good food choices — are widely recommended as staples of a healthy life.

Brushing and flossing your teeth may also boost your heart health, as researchers reported in February.

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Bucking the Trend

Most people didn't ace all three areas.

"Only about 3 percent of the entire group maintained normal weight, engaged in the recommended level of exercise, and had a high-quality diet," write the researchers. They note that more than three out of 10 participants didn't report any of those habits.

But, the future doesn't have to mirror the past or present. Change is always possible. To kick-start the process, check in with a doctor and seek whatever support or training you need.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Al-Zahrani, M. Journal of Periodontology, August 2005; vol 76: pp 1358-1362. WebMD Medical News: Brush Your Teeth, Help Your Heart." News release, Case Western Reserve University. CDC.