It is our central hypothesis that periodontal diseases, which are chronic Gram-negative infections, represent a previously unrecognized risk factor for atherosclerosis and thromboembolic events. Previous studies have demonstrated an association between periodontal disease severity and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. We hypothesize that this association may be due to an underlying inflammatory response trait, which places an individual at high risk for developing both periodontal disease and atherosclerosis. We further suggest that periodontal disease, once established, provides a biological burden of endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide) and inflammatory cytokines (especially TxA2, IL-1 beta, PGE2, and TNF-alpha) which serve to initiate and exacerbate atherogenesis and thromboembolic events. A cohort study was conducted using combined data from the Normative Aging Study and the Dental Longitudinal Study sponsored by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Mean bone loss scores and worst probing pocket depth scores per tooth were measured on 1,147 men during 1968 to 1971. Information gathered during follow-up examinations showed that 207 men developed coronary heart disease (CHD), 59 died of CHD, and 40 had strokes. Incidence odds ratios adjusted for established cardiovascular risk factors were 1.5, 1.9, and 2.8 for bone loss and total CHD, fatal CHD, and stroke, respectively. Levels of bone loss and cumulative incidence of total CHD and fatal CHD indicated a biologic gradient between severity of exposure and occurrence of disease.