Preventing gum disease may be good for your heart.

New research suggests gum disease may put you at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, according to some studies, the presence of gum disease could be a significant risk factor, comparable to smoking, family history and elevated cholesterol.

Studies have suggested that bacteria from diseased gums may travel through the bloodstream, potentially contributing to the formation of artery-clogging plaques.

In one of more than five studies conducted recently into the potential links between gum disease and the heart, a group of 1,200 U.S. veterans was followed over a 35-year period. The group underwent extensive medical tests, including regular dental check-ups. The study found that men with moderate to severe gum disease were much more likely to suffer a stroke or from heart disease than those with healthy gums.

Researchers also believe that gum disease may contribute to infective endocarditis, a condition in which the interior lining of the heart and heart valves become inflamed, possibly due to a bacterial infection. If left untreated, this condition could lead to a fatal infection.