While it’s often assumed wealthy, successful executives have everything, including a shiny set of pearly whites, a recent CDC study shows these individuals often receive less dental care than those who fall below the poverty line.

Surprisingly, dental care has nothing to do with cost or availability and everything to do with emotion, psychology and simply being too busy. The study revealed 30.3 percent of adults between the ages of 18-64 with an income at least 200 percent above the poverty line reported not going to the dentist within the past six months, despite having a tooth or mouth problem, while 31.3 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher were almost twice as likely to forgo a dental visit for a tooth or mouth problem because they deemed it unimportant.

Dr. Hugh Flax is a cosmetic and restorative dentist in Atlanta who regularly treats successful, well-educated executives, entrepreneurs and business professionals. He says fear of missing time away from the office is often cited as the reason for skipping dental visits and neglecting dental health.

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“Even those who had a problem didn’t think it was that important because there were other priorities in their lives,” says Flax.

Yet, ignoring dental health can have many negative impacts not only on teeth, but on overall health and even the success of your business. Here's why:

A nice smile boosts self-confidence. “Your self-confidence and self-image gets destroyed when you don’t take care of your mouth,” says Flax. A study from the University of Manchester’s School of Dentistry found oral-health changes, such as tooth loss, led to a dramatic loss of confidence. Those who feel self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth often avoid smiling, which can impact mood and even your professional success. The mere act of smiling changes blood flow to the brain and actually makes you feel happier and has a contagious effect, boosting the mood of those around you. Smiling can work to your advantage in business dealings, as individuals who smile frequently are perceived as more sociable, trustworthy and intelligent.

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Stress impacts dental health. Stressed individuals often suffer from inadequate sleep, which can affect tooth health. “If you’re stressed, your breathing patterns change, you start clenching [your jaw or grinding your teeth] and over time the teeth start to break down because they were not designed for that kind of wear and tear,” says Flax. It can take years for the wearing down of teeth to become obvious to an individual. But, if spotted by a dentist, the problem can be treated before it escalates to the point of tooth loss.

Dental decay leads to other health problems. Eliminating plaque from teeth can help prevent heart disease, strokes and decrease the risk of developing diabetes. “The bacteria [in the mouth] has been linked to plaques [on artery walls],” says Flax. Dental decay over time results in an infection in the gums. As the body attempts to fight off the infection, blood flow enters the mouth causing the bacteria from the plaque buildup on teeth to get into the blood stream which then makes its way to the arteries of the heart where it can build up and cause a heart attack. Regular dental check-ups every six months to a year and proper oral hygiene can help prevent these serious health issues.

The earlier dental problems are spotted, the easier they are to treat. Flax often approaches executives and busy entrepreneurs with a cost-benefit analysis for dental care.

“Taking more time to take care of your mouth will end up saving money and time in the long run as it costs more money, time and pain to deal with dental problems [once they’ve escalated],” says Flax. Your dentist can also be the first to spot major health issues such as oral cancer, which, if caught early, can be treated effectively. 

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