SEMBACH, Germany -- Although most people probably understand that poor dental care can lead to cavities, did you know that other, more serious health problems can also result from poor oral care?

According to Maj. (Dr.) Eduardo DeCardona, Chief of Periodontics, Rheinland-Pfalz Pulaski Dental Clinic in Kaiserslautern, Germany, "If you don't take proper care of your teeth, you could face far more serious consequences than a simple toothache or some unsightly stains.

"Like other areas of the body, your mouth is inhabited by bacteria -- some harmless and some damaging. But your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and some of these bacteria can cause disease," said DeCardona.

"Normally the body's natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and periodontal disease."

DeCardona added, "Be sure to tell your dentist about any medications you take and about changes in your overall health, especially if you've recently been ill or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes."

DeCardona also recommends that users of tobacco and electronic cigarettes quit.

While information about the medical problems associated with smoking-- such as lung disease, cancer, heart disease and birth defects -- is widely available, many smokers are not aware of the increased risk for periodontal disease. Smokers accumulate more calculus, plaque and stains, have deeper pockets, lose more teeth and have less success with periodontal treatment and dental implants.

"The best way to prevent serious health issues caused by bad oral health is to practice good oral hygiene and schedule regular visits with your dentist," DeCardona added.

DeCardona offered the additional good oral hygiene tips:

• Gently brush your teeth and gums for two minutes at least twice a day.
• Floss your teeth daily.
• Avoid smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco products.
• Use toothpaste and mouthwash products that contain fluoride.
• Limit sugary foods and drinks.
• Eat a well-balanced diet for optimum nutrition.

What conditions can be linked to poor oral health?

Endocarditis - This infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves (endocardium) typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart.

Cardiovascular disease - Although the connection is not fully understood, some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.

Pregnancy and birth complications - Some studies have suggested the possibility that pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. However, more research is needed to confirm how periodontal disease affects pregnancy outcomes.

Pneumonia - Certain bacteria in your mouth can aspirated into the lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, especially in people with periodontal disease.

Certain health conditions also might affect your oral health, including:

Diabetes - By reducing the body's resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. In fact, periodontal disease is often considered a complication from diabetes.

Research has suggested that the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease goes both ways -- periodontal disease may make it more difficult for patients who have diabetes to control their blood sugar. Regular periodontal care can improve diabetes control.

HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, candidiasis, Kaposi's Sarcoma, oral warts and other oral infections are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.

Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers and an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth syndrome.