Can keeping teeth healthy help fend off breast cancer? It might, according to a recent study from Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Researchers followed 3,273 study participants for 16 years. Findings: Among women with periodontal (gum) disease, those who were missing one or more molars were 11 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who had not lost any molars. Explanation: Inflammation is a key factor in many chronic diseases, including cancer. Gum disease involves chronic infection and inflammation which, over the years, can destroy the bone surrounding the teeth and lead to tooth loss—and also may allow bacteria to spread from diseased gums via the bloodstream and damage cells in other parts of the body, potentially increasing cancer risk.

Self-defense: Gum disease gets its start when a biofilm of bacteria (in the form of dental plaque) is allowed to linger on teeth. Twice-daily tooth-brushing, daily flossing, periodic professional cleanings and prompt visits to the dentist at the first sign of trouble—swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath, unpleasant taste in the mouth—can help you keep your teeth… and maybe your breasts, too. Bonus: Good periodontal health also appears to protect against heart disease, stroke, preterm labor and diabetes.