It may be tempting, especially during these tough economic times, to skimp on your dental care in order to save a few dollars. But neglecting your oral health can have health effects that extend far beyond your mouth, according toDental Health for Adults: A guide to protecting your teeth and gums, a newly updated report from Harvard Medical School.

Chronic gum infection has been linked to conditions as serious and as varied as diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, and complications during pregnancy. In a special section, the report examines the connections between oral health and overall physical health. Although some of the research is preliminary, one thing is clear: when you take care of your teeth, you’re really taking care of your whole self, both now and in the years to come.

A common mechanism — inflammation — is likely what links gum disease (often called periodontal disease) with other ailments. Although periodontal disease starts with a bacterial infection, it is the ensuing inflammation that eventually destroys the gum tissue. Scientists think that bacteria from gum infections travel through the bloodstream to trigger inflammation in organs and tissues at distant sites. Periodontal disease is a likely contributor to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and pregnancy complications, and has been linked to a lesser degree with several other conditions, including kidney disease, pancreatic cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dental Health for Adultsis available for $18 from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School. Order it online at by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).