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Stroke and Gum Disease: What's the Connection?

May is Stroke Awareness Month and we want to take this opportunity to share with you the connection between stroke and periodontal (gum) disease. 

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease  is a progressive, inflammatory disease that affects the hard and soft tissues supporting the teeth.  It starts as gingivitis, which is the mildest form of periodontal disease.  Gingivitis causes gums to turn red, swell, and bleed.  Dental plaque is the primary cause of gingivitis.  Plaque is a sticky, colorless film, composed mostly of bacteria and food particles, that develops on your teeth at and below the gum line. Bacteria found in plaque produce toxins that irritate the gums.  

If left untreated, gingivitis will worsen to periodontitis.  At this stage, deep pockets form between the gums and the teeth. When the bacteria make its way below the gum line, it creates inflammation that can destroy tissue and bone in the mouth, leading to tooth loss. 

The Connection Between Stroke and Periodontal Disease

Strokes and periodontal disease may seem like strange bedfellows, but they have a lot in common, more than most people think.  Both diseases have serious implications for patients.  Both are prevalent in the U.S.; 80% of Americans will have with periodontal disease by age 45, and on average, every four minutes one American dies from a stroke. With both stroke and periodontal disease, patients may be unaware of their risk.   

Researchers have little doubt that the presence of periodontal disease can increase the risk of stroke.  Although the connection is not clear, here are two key factors:

  • Inflammation – Periodontal disease causes severe inflammation in the gum tissue which elevates the white blood cell count and also the high sensitivity C-reactive protein levels. Studies have shown that elevated levels of C-reactive proteins have been linked to stroke.
  • Oral bacteria affect the blood vessels – There are many different strains of periodontal bacteria.  Some of these strains enter the bloodstream and attach to heart blood vessels (coronary arteries) that have been weakened by age and high blood pressure.  This attachment then contributes to clot formation, which can lead to a stroke, or causes arterial ruptures in the brain leading to hemorrhages.

What You Can Do To Reduce Your Risk

If you have risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, heart disease, or a family history of stroke, it is especially important to prevent periodontal disease through regular dental cleanings and exams (which include periodontal evaluations), and proper brushing and flossing.  

If you are

diagnosed with periodontal disease,

your

dentist

will discuss a comprehensive treatment plan, which may include deep cleaning treatments such as scaling and root planing to remove hardened calculus (tartar) deposits from the gum pockets, antibiotic treatment  to ensure that the bacteria is completely destroyed and the periodontal infection does not spread, or refer you to a periodontist for specialized treatment.   

Periodontal disease and stroke risk is one more area where your dental and medical health converge.  If you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease please speak with Dr. Morrison at your next visit.  

As gum disease is a risk factor for diseases of the blood vessels and arteries, be sure to let your physician know if you have been given this diagnosis by your dentist.  

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