A winning smile is so much more than sparkling white teeth and gums free of parsley. A healthy mouth signifies a healthy body, too.

According to researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden, there is a strong link between chronic health problems including heart disease and poor oral health. In the first study of its type, Swedish researchers looked at patients with chronic coronary heart disease taking part in a drugs trial and examined their dental health.

Of the 15,828 study participants, there was a direct correlation between the number of teeth missing, and an increase level of an enzyme that increases inflammation and promotes hardening of the arteries. Other cardiac risk markers also went up as the number of teeth dropped, including cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and waist circumference.

Patients with fewer teeth also had more chance of having diabetes, with the odds increasing by 11 per cent for every fall in the number of teeth category.

Despite the study, little is known about why the two are linked. One theory is that oral bacteria entering the bloodstream may activate the immune system, making artery walls inflamed and narrowed, or attach directly to fatty deposits already present in the arteries which causes further narrowing.

What is clear is that people can improve their health, and their risk of periodontal disease and general oral health, by seeing a dentist. “Visiting your dentist regularly is an important part of your overall health,” says principal dentist at Sydney Cosmetic Sanctuary, Dr Nidhi Berera. “We advise a general check and clean every six months, as in this time it is very easy to accumulate plaque and tartar which can cause oral health problems. It is also important to check regularly for decay, as once a cavity begins in a tooth, it usually will progress to a large filling and cause more long-term problems. Prevention is always a better option, so brush and floss every day. And see your dentist!”