Mom's constant reminders to brush your teeth may be helping your heart. Good oral hygiene aids in preventing plaque build-up that characterizes both cardiac and gum diseases.

There is growing evidence that hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, is somehow related to infection and inflammation.

The primary form of periodontal disease occurs when bacteria invade the gums, bones, and tissue that support the teeth. Many adults suffer from periodontal disease, but most do not realize it until substantial damage has already occurred. Often painless, gum disease progresses relentlessly. Gums separate from teeth, pockets form and deepen, and bacteria-produced toxins destroy tissue. While in its earliest stage, known as gingivitis, professional dental care and good oral hygiene can reverse the damage.

For hundreds of years, people have recognized a connection between oral infections and systemic conditions. More recent investigations have found an association between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, low birth-weight babies, respiratory infections, and diabetes. One study found people with periodontal bone loss had twice the chance of fatal heart disease. The exact mechanism that increases cardiovascular risk remains murky, but experts believe bacteria from the chronic gum infection enter the bloodstream and cause white blood cells that fight infections to release inflammatory chemicals that create a build-up of fatty deposits and clots in the arteries. Studies have shown that chronic infections in other parts of the body can cause a similar response.