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Research Links Gum Disease to Risk of Stroke

Strokes occur when a blood clot prevents oxygen from accessing the brain, or when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain. Although anyone can have a stroke, at any age, these risks increase as you age and can vary depending on your sex and ethnicity. Other factors also contribute towards stroke risk, depending on your lifestyle choices. Smokers, excessive alcohol drinkers and unfit people will find themselves more at risk than others. Your general health will also have an influence; those suffering with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes will have a greater risk of having a stroke.

It is thought that the majority of people are not aware of the risks associated with poor oral health. According to researchers from the International Dental Health Foundation “only one in six people realise that people with gum disease may have an increased risk of stroke”.

In 2004, researchers in Germany identified an increased risk of stroke for those with advanced gum disease, particularly for men and patients under the age of 60. Gum disease is an inflammatory disease often caused by poor oral hygiene, which affects the hard and soft tissues that support the teeth. Also known as periodontal disease, it causes gums to swell, turn red and bleed. In time, the bacteria associated with the gum disease can make their way below the gum line and spread toxins into the body via the blood stream. This creates inflammation in the body. If periodontal disease is left untreated, deep pockets form between the gums and the teeth and the tissue of the underlying jawbone is also destroyed. Bacteria can make their way into these gaps and infect the gums, which can eventually lead to tooth loss. Researchers in 2012 conducted a study from the Attikon University Hospital in Athens, Greece. They confirmed that patients with periodontitis are associated with a higher risk of stroke. So why might this be?

Research has found that one specific bacteria linked to periodontitis, called ‘Streptococcus Sanguis’, spreads to the heart once it enters the body. This bacterium also plays a role in strokes. Inflammation in the body caused by the toxins that have entered the blood stream leads to hardening of the arteries, otherwise known as ‘atherosclerosis’. This makes it much harder for blood to flow to and from the heart. The relationship between this bacterium and other periodontal disease bacteria leads to thicker neck arteries, which makes it harder for the blood to flow to the brain; a lack of blood into the brain is the cause of strokes.

It is absolutely vital that we keep to a consistently thorough dental hygiene routine on a daily basis. This includes the following:

  • Brush your teeth (and tongue) at least twice a day
  • Floss – this removes food particles and plaque between the teeth and along the gum line that brushing alone may have missed.
  • Mouthwash is useful for washing away any remaining residue and freshening the breath.

You must also:

  • Keep to your regular dental appointments so that we are able to spot any early signs of gum disease and tackle the issue before it becomes a greater problem for you.
  • Assess your personal risk factors – do you smoke or drink heavily? How old are you? Are you pregnant? What is your diet like?

Take your oral health seriously and alter your lifestyle if necessary to make it a healthier one.

Look out for the warning signs of gum disease. If any of the following sound familiar to you, please get in touch and book an appointment for the near future.

Indications of periodontitis include:

  • Red gums that are swollen or tender
  • Bleeding while eating hard foods, or brushing/flossing
  • Painful mouth
  • Receding gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Loose teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Any changes in your bite (how your teeth fit together when you bite down)
  • Changes to how your partial dentures fit

We are happy to advise you however we can and we will be able to take quick action on any potential problem areas. Talk to us, even if it is just for peace of mind. We are here to help!