Stroke Risk Higher Due To Gum Disease

Posted on Mar 07, 2018 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Ischemic stroke happens because of a blocked artery to the brain. Because the brain relies on oxygen and nutrients carried through blood, a blocked artery means the brain cells struggle. Thus, a blocked artery can eventually lead to dying brain cells and stroke.

Ischemic stroke is the most common kind of stroke and about 88 percent of all strokes. Most people with ischemic strokes are over the age of 60 and the risk goes up with each year. Certain conditions increase one’s risk for stroke, including high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking, and diabetes.

Having certain health conditions also make an individual more susceptible to stroke. These include narrowing of the arteries, an irregular heartbeat (a-fib), heart attack, abnormal heart valves, injury to blood vessels in the neck, or blood clots.

The very word ‘stroke’ conjures up the image of an individual with a droopy face and a dangling arm that fails to function. Some of us can remember a grandparent going from a busy, self-sufficient person to one who became bed-ridden or was never the same because of a stroke.

Although stroke recovery today is more successful, it remains a dreaded episode with life-altering outcomes in many instances. Of course, the goal is to prevent a stroke from ever occurring. There are a number of ways that today’s adults can lessen the risk, one being good oral health. Does that surprise you?

The oral health-overall health connection has become more front-&-center in scientific research. About half of Americans aged 30 years or older have periodontitis, which is an advanced level of gum disease. Obviously, this has given cause to a diligent pursuit in finding paths of its associated hazards.

Gum disease is actually an inflammatory disease, which has a strong association to one’s risk for stroke. Periodontal disease occurs when oral bacterial accumulate, eventually attacking the soft and hard structures that support teeth. Think of the inflammatory triggers of gum disease as similar to those of high blood pressure, for instance.

Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease of the oral gum tissues. It can be mild or severe and begins with swollen, tender gums that may eventually lead to tooth loss. The oral bacteria of gum disease has been linked to a wide array of serious health conditions through past research.

These include heart disease, some cancers, Alzheimers disease, diabetes, preterm babies, arthritis and erectile dysfunction (ED). These are in addition to already-established links between gum disease and heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Prior studies have also shown an association between periodontal disease and incident stroke risk. While a recent, U.S. based study reinforces the link between gum disease and the risk for stroke, it also shows that regular dental care may actually lower the risk for stroke. (

Researchers in the ARIC study (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities), beginning in the 1980s, analyzed data from 10,362 middle-aged adults. None had experienced a previous stroke and participants were given dental evaluations and regular follow-up.

All were screened on their level of dental care and classified as either ‘regular’ (having routine dental visits more than once a year) or ‘episodic’ (those who saw a dentist only when something hurt, required repair, or didn’t see a dentist at all).

Researchers noted that the relationship between gum disease and myocardial infarction has been shown through previous studies as well as an association between gum disease and stroke.

So, could having good periodontal health reduce the stroke risk?

During the 15-year follow-up period, 584 participants had an incident ischemic stroke. The results indicated that adults who had regular dental care had half the stroke risk of those in the episodic category.

The study also showed that the more severe the periodontal disease was present, the higher the risk of future stroke.

Researchers surmised that a proper dental hygiene regimen combined with regular dental care can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. (

Even after adjustments were made for race, age, sex, body mass index, hypertension, being diabetic, smoking, and education, those receiving regular dental care showed lower rates of ischemic stroke. The highest rate of stroke was seen among those who developed the more advanced levels of gum inflammation.

We all want to avoid health problems, especially something with consequences as severe as stroke. That’s why we have annual physicals, periodic screenings, and tests that can catch problems at early stages so only minimal treatment is needed.

Apparently, regular dental checkups play a major role in helping you avoid problems far beyond the mouth. As a periodontist, I have a unique understanding for how intricately the health of your mouth effects the health of your body.

When it comes to your overall health, good oral health obviously gives you a ‘leg up’ for whole-body health. If you’re behind on having 6-month dental checkups and cleanings, call 828-274-9440 to schedule a complete periodontal exam. Or, begin with a consultation. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and discuss treatment and comfort options during this time.

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