Knoxville (WVLT) - Believe it or not, your toothbrush could be the latest weapon against heart disease and stroke.
A growing number of studies show having healthy teeth and gums may cut your risk of contracting a number of heart related problems.
The evidence isn't exactly clear why, but there is a definite link.
People with periodontal disease are nearly twice as likely to have heart disease.
And one study found the presence of common problems in the mouth are as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
Gingivitis is an infection of the gums usually caused by poor oral hygiene.
Gums are red, swollen and bleed.
Bacteria within plaque which forms on teeth lead to chronic inflammation of the gum line and tooth loss.
"One theory is that the plaque involved in the mouth has the same bacteria that's in the plaque in our heart system, in our vascular system," Sequoya Dental Arts Doctor Pablo Foncea says what researchers don't know is, is plaque on the gums a result of plaque in the heart, or vice versa?
"The other option is the bacteria in there is actually causing an inflammatory response and that can also swell and help those vessels close down faster," says Dr. Foncea.
How do bacteria in the mouth affect the heart?
Researchers say it's possible bacteria enter the bloodstream, traveling to the rest of the body and causing inflammation which results in the clogging of the arteries.
"Periodontal disease is a correlation and they're finding out it's a risk factor, it's not the cause. And if you brush your teeth a whole bunch, it doesn't mean you can start smoking or going back and not exercising or eating healthy," Dr. Foncea says.
While brushing and flossing can prevent periodontal disease, a bad brushing technique can actually make it worse.
If you brush too hard from side to side, you can miss the plaque and tear your gums.
And that can lead to more infection.
But the good news is, periodontal disease is totally preventable with proper brushing and flossing, which may turn out to be good news for your heart, as well.
Persistent swollen, red or bleeding gums, tooth sensitivity and bad breath are warning signs for periodontal disease, a serious infection in itself, which, left untreated can also lead to tooth loss.
Find out if you could have periodontal disease: