There’s a simple tool that can offer you a quick peek at your heart health — and you’re probably just a few feet away from one right now.

It’s a mirror.

teethJust stand in front of it, open your mouth, and take a look inside, because oral health and cardiovascular health have a lot in common.

I know that sounds like folk medicine. But it’s been proven by research — including a new study of nearly 16,000 people in 39 nations that finds a link between missing teeth and the major risk factors for heart disease.

If you’ve got one or two missing teeth, you don’t have too much to worry about.

But more than that, and odds are you have higher levels of the enzyme linked to inflammation and hardened arteries.

The more teeth you’re missing, the higher that risk — and that’s not the only potential cardiovascular warning sign. People with missing teeth also tend to have bigger waistlines, higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar, and higher levels of “bad” cholesterol, according to the study.

Bleeding gums have also been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. And in the new study, bleeding gums were linked to higher levels of bad cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The common link here is bacteria.

Many of the same germs responsible for gum diseases and tooth decay can also cause heart problems. And if you’ve got bleeding gums, those bacteria have direct access to your bloodstream, where they can do serious damage.

That’s why good heart health starts with good oral hygiene. And good oral hygiene is as simple as following these steps:

Brush & floss: Start with the basics, like brushing after meals and flossing each day. Pass on anything with fluoride, and stick with all-natural toothpastes instead.

Skip the sugar: The bacteria responsible for oral diseases and heart problems love carbs, especially processed carbs such as refined grains and sugars. To satisfy your sweet tooth without risking a cavity or a heart attack, try xylitol, a natural no-calorie sweetener that can actually kill oral bacteria such as Streptococcus. As a bonus, it can even fight cancer. (Yes, cancer–really! Click here to read all about it.)

Rinse: Forget fluoride rinses. If you really want to improve your oral hygiene and get fresh breath at the same time, use tea tree oil instead. In addition, a 0.1 percent solution of folic acid can fight gingivitis.

Supplement boost: Not coincidentally, some of the supplements that are great for the heart are every bit as good for your teeth and gums. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA can protect against periodontal problems such as tooth decay and gum disease, while CoQ10 can protect against gingivitis.

And if you’re looking for something that’s both delicious and healthy, try green tea. This cancer-fighting super drink is loaded with polyphenols that can fight the bacteria behind gum disease.

It’s also great for your heart, can help keep cancer away, and may even help you to live longer.

I’ll have more on green tea — including what just might be its biggest benefit yet — on Tuesday, so be sure to keep an eye on your inbox.

God bless,

Dr. Mark Stengler