Brushing, flossing and regular trips to the dentist won't just keep your teeth glistening and your breath smelling minty fresh - it could prevent heart disease.
Researchers have shown that the progression of atherosclerosis - a narrowing of arteries through the build-up of plaque, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, and death - slows as gum health improves.
"These results are important because atherosclerosis progressed in parallel with both clinical periodontal disease [gum disease] and the bacterial profiles in the gums.," says Moïse Desvarieux, lead author of the paper. "This is the most direct evidence yet that modifying the periodontal bacterial profile could play a role in preventing or slowing both diseases."
The study examined the teeth of 420 adults, looking for gum infection.
Overall, 5,008 plaque samples were taken from several teeth, beneath the gum, and analysed for 11 bacterial strains linked to periodontal disease and seven control bacteria.
Bacteria in the mouth may contribute to the onset of atherosclerosis in a number of ways, scientists speculate. Animal studies indicate that they may trigger immune response and high levels of inflammatory markers, which may initiate or exacerbate the inflammatory aspect of atherosclerosis.
Dr. Desvarieux concludes: "It is critical that we continue to follow these patients to see if the relationship between periodontal infections and atherosclerosis carries over to clinical events like heart attack and stroke and test if modifying the periodontal flora will slow the progression of atherosclerosis."
The Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study is published online by the Journal of the American Heart Association.