It’s well established that keeping your teeth clean and your gums healthy not only benefits your smile, but has a huge impact on your overall health. Now, a new study published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism reminds us of the importance of oral health — particularly when it comes to heart disease.

The authors of the study found that oral infections and mouth bacteria can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation. Oral infections like cavities and periodontal diseases (gingivitis, periodontitis) are the most common diseases among humans, and they are all chronic inflammatory diseases. Past research has highlighted the link between poor oral health and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and it has also been associated with a higher risk of stroke, especially among men.

Oral infections often allow bacteria to travel through the bloodstream to the heart and arteries, increasing cholesterol and triggering inflammation.

“Given the high prevalence of oral infections, any risk they contribute to future cardiovascular disease is important to public health,” Thomas Van Dyke of the Forsyth Institute, an author of the study, said in the press release. “Unraveling the role of the oral microbiome and inflammation in cardiovascular disease will likely lead to new preventive and treatment approaches.”

The authors of the study tried to examine the best therapeutic avenues to treat both periodontitis, which is inflammatory, and cardiovascular disease. They found that a high dose of a cholesterol-lowering medicine known as atorvastatin, which increases the anti-inflammatory molecules lipoxins and resolvins in the blood, was effective at controlling both periodontal and cardiovascular inflammation.

“New discoveries of natural pathways that resolve inflammation have offered many opportunities for revealing insights into disease pathogenesis and for developing new pharmacologic targets for the treatment of both oral infections and cardiovascular disease,” Van Dyke said in the press release.

It’s often easy to see your teeth and mouth as separate of sorts from the rest of your body, but the reality is that they are intimately linked. As Dr. Kesavalu Lakshmyya, an author of a study on periodonotitis and heart disease, told The Telegraph. “The mouth is the gateway to the body.”

Periodontitis is a gum infection that destroys the soft tissue as well as the bone that supports your teeth. It can become serious if left untreated and may ultimately lead to tooth loss, but the funny thing is that it’s incredibly easy to prevent; it’s usually the result of poor oral hygiene. So if you needed a better reason to start brushing your teeth with more dedication, this is it.

“The majority of diseases and conditions of aging, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, have a major inflammatory component that can be made worse by the presence of periodontitis,” Van Dyke said. “Periodontitis is not just a dental disease, and it should not be ignored, as it is a modifiable risk factor.”

Source: Kholy K, Genco R, Van Dyke T. Oral infections and cardiovascular disease. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2015.