Detrimental effects of oral infections on general health have been known for almost 3000 years. Modern studies, however, have cast new light on the pathogenic mechanisms by which oral infections appear to link with morbidity and mortality. In particular, among the elderly, poor dental health seems to associate with all-cause mortality. This review aims to provide an overview of present knowledge of these issues, starting from dental bacteraemia, oral mucosal infections and problems of drug resistance and, briefly, discussing what is known about the link between oral health and some systemic diseases such as atherosclerosis and type-2 diabetes. The main conclusions are that scientific evidence is still weak on these interactions and that the elderly should be better taken into account when planning future studies. Functions of the body differ in the frail and diseased from those of the young. Consequently, novel prevention and treatment strategies should be developed and properly tested for combating oral infections in elderly populations. Specific suggestions for further research are outlined.