Teeth cleanings are essential not just for clean teeth, but a healthy mind and body as well. Teeth cleanings remove the buildup of plaque and tartar. This buildup is for the most part natural — kind of like how a boat picks up barnacles just by being in the ocean. But too much buildup leads to gum disease.

The reason tartar needs to be removed is because your body sees it as a foreign invader. As with any other foreign invader, like a flu bug or an infection, your body “sends in the troops” using the immune system to fight off the infection. There is a battle in your mouth at all times, and the war is never over. Teeth cleanings level the playing field by keeping things in check.

Gum disease is when your body’s immune system is responding to this tartar buildup with inflamed and bleeding gums. The immune system response is successful at killing off invaders like infection and flu bugs, but at a cost: like a war, there are innocent bystanders that get slaughtered. As gum disease progresses, so does the destruction to your bone and tissues in your mouth.

Your immune system is meant only to fight off infection for a short period of time — chronic activation of the immune system means it can get worn out and it won’t be as strong to fight off an illness. Chronic activation of the immune system can lead to diseases in the rest of your body.

That’s why preventing gum disease reduces risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia.