Mom was right: Good personal hygiene is essential to promoting good health.
Personal hygiene habits such as washing your hands and brushing and flossing your teeth will help keep bacteria, viruses, and illnesses at bay. And there are mental as well as physical benefits. “Practicing good body hygiene helps you feel good about yourself, which is important for your mental health,” notes Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. People who have poor hygiene — disheveled hair and clothes, body odor, bad breath, missing teeth, and the like — often are seen as unhealthy and may face discrimination.
Personal Hygiene: Healthy Habits Include Good Grooming
If you want to minimize your risk of infection and also enhance your overall health, follow these basic personal hygiene habits:
Bathe regularly. Wash your body and your hair often. “I’m not saying that you need to shower or bathe every day,” remarks Dr. Novey. “But you should clean your body and shampoo your hair at regular intervals that work for you.” Your body is constantly shedding skin. Novey explains, “That skin needs to come off. Otherwise, it will cake up and can cause illnesses.”
Trim your nails. Keeping your finger and toenails trimmed and in good shape will prevent problems such as hang nails and infected nail beds. Feet that are clean and dry are less likely to contract athlete’s foot, Novey says.
Brush and floss. Ideally, you should brush your teeth after every meal. At the very least, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brushing minimizes the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease, Novey says. Flossing, too, helps maintain strong, healthy gums. “The bacteria that builds up and causes gum disease can go straight to the heart and cause very serious valve problems,” Novey explains. Unhealthy gums also can cause your teeth to loosen, which makes it difficult to chew and to eat properly, he adds. To maintain a healthy smile, visit the dentist at six-month intervals for checkups and cleanings.
Wash your hands. Washing your hands before preparing or eating food, after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after handling garbage, goes a long way toward preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. Keep a hygiene product, like an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, handy for when soap and water isn’t available.
Sleep tight. Get plenty of rest — 8 to 10 hours a night — so that you are refreshed and are ready to take on the day every morning. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling run down and can compromise your body's natural defenses, your immune system, Novey says.
Personal Hygiene: Poor Hygiene Hints at Other Issues
If someone you know hasn’t bathed or appears unkempt, it could be a sign that he or she is depressed. “When people are sad or depressed, they neglect themselves,” Novey says. Talking about the importance of proper personal hygiene for preventing illnesses and providing personal hygiene items may help some people. Be candid but sensitive and understanding in your discussions, Novey says. Despite your best efforts, your friend or loved one may need professional help. You should encourage them to see a counselor or doctor if their personal hygiene doesn’t improve.
Personal Hygiene: Good Habits Help Keep You Healthy
For most people, good hygiene is so much a part of their daily routines that they think little about it. They bathe, they brush their teeth, visit the dentist and doctor for regular checkups, and wash their hands when preparing or eating food and handling unsanitary items. To keep those you care about healthy and safe, help them learn, and be sure that they are practicing, good personal hygiene.