Brush for health will be the theme of the National Smile Month campaign getting under way in the UK in June. Gum diseases, when untreated, could also lead to life-threatening conditions.
Do you remember that old song, "Your knee bone's connected to your thighbone..."? asks dental hygienist Alison Lowe of Wales and says it is not just our bones which are connected, as there is increasing evidence to suggest that poor oral health can have a huge impact on the rest of the body.
AdvertisementScientists have long suspected that gum disease - caused by bacteria around the teeth - can trigger inflammation throughout the body.
However, until recently, unless the patient was particularly vulnerable, the loss of a tooth or two was thought to be pretty much the worse that could happen.
This is no longer the case and there is increasing evidence to suggest that gum disease may increase the risk of other diseases or worsen existing symptoms, Alison Lowe tells Western Mail.
Some of the problems linked to poor oral health include:
About 40% of adults suffer from gum disease at some time. This causes inflammation in the mouth, which has a measurable effect in the bloodstream - and therefore the rest of the body - restricting blood flow in the arteries and increasing the risk of a heart attack;
Scientists at the University of California have found that gum disease may contribute to clogged carotid arteries - these are the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain - leading to an increased risk of a stroke.
The department of periodontology at the University of Copenhagen has found a link between gum disease and pre-diabetes, which is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classed as full-blown type 2 diabetes.
However, as the name suggests, it is often the precursor to full-blown diabetes.
It has long been known that people with diabetes have a higher risk of gum disease but now it seems to work both ways, with bacteria from gum disease actually causing blood sugar levels to rise.
Also, when diabetics fight a bacterial infection the insulin works less efficiently, so gum disease can make managing diabetes much harder;
New research suggests that losing teeth at a young age could be an early warning of Alzheimer's in later life.
Studies have shown a link between tooth loss caused by gum disease and problems with the brain.
It is thought that early exposure to inflammation, such as that caused by gum problems, quadruples the risk of developing the disease in old age.
Results from an Australian study have shown that patients with rheumatoid arthritis are more than twice as likely to suffer from severe gum disease;
Gum disease is also thought to be responsible for higher rates of premature babies. A study in Chile found that one in three women at risk of premature labour not only had gum disease bacteria in their mouth but also in their amniotic fluid - the liquid that surrounds the unborn baby in the womb.
Obviously, any disruption to this fluid may be harmful for both mother and child.
Many women find that hormonal changes during pregnancy cause their gums to bleed and their oral health to get worse and as this study shows gum disease may have an impact on the unborn baby;
With every breath you take, your lungs are filled with lots of bacteria, including the bugs responsible for chest infections, which are often found in dental plaque.
If you have gammy gums and your body's resistance is low, you may find that you are more prone to chesty coughs and colds;
Evidence suggests that the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers - Heliobacter pylori bacterium - lives in dental plaque.
Exactly how gum disease is involved in such a diverse range of conditions is unknown.
There are hundreds of different bacteria in the mouth and it could be that they get into the bloodstream through small perforations in the gums and travel to other parts of the body, where they set up home and begin new infections. Compounds involved in inflammation may also play a part.
With heart disease and stroke one theory is that bacteria may enter the bloodstream and activate the immune system, resulting in the artery walls becoming inflamed, narrowed and eventually blocked.
Another theory is that the bacteria attach themselves directly to the fatty deposits that are already in the arteries causing further narrowing.
What is certain is that we need to brush for health and attack the plaque, because once gum disease is eradicated there is significant restoration of blood vessel function, which reduces the risk of heart attacks and blood clots.
Good dental hygiene may thus lower the risk of a whole range of problems so brush for health and you may find you avoid more than just toothache.