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4 Everyday Habits That Wreck Your Health

We all are guilty of skimping on sleep, biting nails, skipping flossing or something similar. However, these seemingly benign things that you do on a regular basis may be anything but. Four women reveal their little indiscretions and share how they made a change for the better.

By Brooke Benjamin

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dental floss
Mary Lynn Blasutta
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"I seldom flossed."
—Jenni Taylor Swain, Fayetteville, Arkansas

This 48-year-old finally made flossing a habit after her dentist warned her about her bleeding gums and plaque buildup.

The Danger: Flossing is the best way to prevent gum disease, which affects nearly 80% of adults. This bacterial infection, which is the number one cause of tooth loss in those over age 35, is not just a dental issue: It has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and even some types of cancer.

Jenni's Tips for Flossing Often
Bring it out of the bathroom.
"Most people keep floss only in their medicine cabinet," says Jenni. "Mine is in my glove compartment, a bowl by my kitchen sink, and in my purse (one kind comes in a container that fits in my wallet like a credit card). I floss a handful of times each day—usually when I'm stuck in traffic or watching TV—and it's great because my sons (ages 16 and 13) see me taking care of my oral health."

Stock up. "I bought all different kinds of floss: woven, waxed, unwaxed, flavored. The variety makes it a little more fun."

Expert Advice: "It's great that Jenni set it up so she can floss anytime, anywhere—one of my patients scheduled a daily reminder in his work e-mail calendar," says Cynthia Sherwood, D.D.S., an Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson in Independence, Kansas. Just be sure to use care, especially if you floss often, as it's possible to aggravate your gums.

Dr. Sherwood recommends products that take the hassle out of the process, such as floss sticks or the Reach Access Flosser (available at drugstores), which has a long handle for getting to the back molars. If you haven't flossed in a while, try the woven kind—it's softer, so it's easier on your gums.

Surprise Benefit: "I love my smile, and my gums never bleed anymore. But one thing I didn't expect? I seldom get sick now," says Jenni. Dr. Sherwood thinks that since Jenni's immune system doesn't have to focus on her inflamed gums, it may have more time to guard against colds and other minor illnesses.

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