Fresh breath, vibrant gums, pearly white teeth: There’s nothing like a beautiful mouth to make you want to pucker up. But daily brushing, regular flossing, and smart eating do more than keep you kiss-ready. Too much of the wrong mouth bacteria not only leads to bad breath, tooth decay, and tooth loss, but also gum disease, and, more seriously, heart and kidney disease.

Cases in point: A 2012 study from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland found that Streptococcus gordonii, a common mouth bacteria that contributes to dental plaque, can mimic a blood-clotting protein when introduced to the bloodstream (through, for example, bleeding gums), increasing risk of dangerous clots. An earlier, large-scale study links periodontal disease and tooth loss with chronic inflammatory kidney disease. To protect your kisser, follow a healthy oral care routine and include these foods in your daily diet, says Arthur Glosman, DDS, of Beverly Hills, California.

Herbs, especially minty ones.

Spearmint and peppermint, as well as parsley, coriander (cilantro), eucalyptus, rosemary, cinnamon, and tarragon offer antimicrobial properties that fight bad breath and aid digestion, says Glosman. Look for oral care products that also incorporate these plants’ essential oils.

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According to recent research, probiotics in yogurt battle bad breath, plaque, and gum disease by creating an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria in your mouth. Also try kefir, a drinkable yogurt. With either form, avoid products with lots of added sugar (which feeds odor-causing mouth bacteria) and check the label to be sure the yogurt contains live, active cultures.

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The French are onto something: Increasing evidence suggests cheese eaten at the end of a meal prevents tooth decay, reduces tooth-enamel breakdown, and neutralizes acids formed in plaque. Like yogurt, no-sugar-added cheese and other dairy foods may actually prevent dental caries, according to a 2012 research review.

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Crunchy, raw vegetables and fruits.

Stimulate circulation in your gums and encourage bacteria-flushing saliva by munching on apples, carrots, celery, green bell peppers, and cucumbers. Their natural fiber “scrubs” teeth naturally, dislodging food particles, says Glosman.

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Vitamin C–rich foods.

An important immunity booster, vitamin C also creates an unfriendly scene for bacteria growth and wards off gum disease. Enjoy your fill of C-loaded berries, citrus, and melons.

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Want a great post-meal drink? Green and black teas’ antibacterial properties prevent plaque buildup while weakening existing plaque and bacteria. When tea isn’t available, swish your mouth with a natural mouthwash containing antibacterial ingredients such as cinnamon, tea tree oil, and clove. When all else fails, rinse with water after eating to remove excess food debris.

Sugarless gum.

Chewing sugarless gum after a meal stimulates bacteria-fighting saliva and dislodges food particles. Xylitol-enhanced gum, in particular, helps prevent cavities; just make sure xylitol is high on the ingredient list.