A missed brushing, flossing or dental appointment now and then may sound like no big deal.

But neglecting your dental health can lead to periodontal disease, commonly called gum disease, a condition that affects more than just your oral health.

Gum disease is an infection of the tissues and bone supporting the teeth. It can happen to people of all ages, and, if left untreated, gum disease can cause problems from the simply embarrassing, like bad breath, to the serious, like pain and tooth loss. Gum disease is usually caused by a buildup of plaque, an invisible layer of germs that forms naturally on teeth and gums.

Plaque contains bacteria, which produce toxins that irritate and damage the gums. According to the American Dental Association, it only takes 24 hours for enough bacteria to form in the mouth to start causing gum disease.

Gum disease has two stages: gingivitis and periodontics. Gingivitis is milder, only affects the gums and is often reversible if treated early. Symptoms include red, swollen gum that bleed easily. The second and more serious stage is periodontitis. The gums, tissue and bones supporting the teeth become irreversibly destroyed. If left untreated, tooth loss could occur.

These health threats can eventually spread beyond the mouth, causing health complications in other areas of the body. Studies show periodontal disease is linked with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and pregnancy complications. More research is needed to see how these conditions cause or augment the other, but what is known is people can reduce the risk of gum disease with good dental care.

Remember to brush teeth twice each day and floss at least once daily. People should eat a healthy, balanced diet and not smoke. Because periodontal disease is usually painless, people often don't know if they have it. Getting regular dental checkups is the key to prevention.