Strokes and Oral Health: Is There A Connection?

Strokes – every four minutes, someone in the United States dies from one! As we learn more  about how our oral health affects our overall health, we couldn’t help but wonder if there is a relationship between strokes and oral health.

Understanding Strokes

To understand the connection between strokes and oral health one must first understand what a stroke is and who is at a higher risk of having one. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, or a blood clot stops oxygen from getting to the brain. Someone who is having a stroke will show physical signs which may include a drooping face, arm weakness, or impaired speech. While a stroke can occur in anyone, there are specific groups of people at greater risk:

  • People 65 or older – the risk of having a stroke increases with age with the majority of stroke victims being age 65 or older.
  • African Americans – have twice the risk of stroke compared to Caucasians and are the group most likely to die from a stroke.
  • Those making bad lifestyle choices – sedentary lifestyle, smoking, obesity, and the diseases that can result from them (like high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and diabetes) have been found to cause stroke.

Recent studies have found patients who have had a stroke generally had poor oral hygiene practices and oral health. Unfortunately, poor oral health generally results in the development of gum disease.

Understanding Gum Disease

Gum disease affects more than 64 million Americans. It is a completely preventable disease, created by overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. Characterized by red, swollen gums that have pulled away from the tooth and easily bleed, gum disease has multiple stages and can many times be slowed with proper treatment.

The best way to avoid gum disease is to keep good oral health care practices and following your dentist’s recommendations: brushing twice a day, using floss and mouthwash daily, chewing sugar-free gum between meals when brushing isn’t an option, and seeing your dentist at least twice a year for regular check-ups.

So, just how are stroke and gum disease connected?

The Connection Between Gum Disease and Stroke

The major link between gum disease and stroke is inflammation.  The abundance of bacteria associated with gum disease is an infection of the mouth. Unfortunately, this bacterial infection can get in the bloodstream, causing inflammation making blood more likely to clot, leading to a stroke.

While it is still unclear whether inflammation from gum disease results in vascular inflammation (related to both heart disease and stroke), or the other way around, studies are clear there is a link. In fact, the inflammation associated with gum disease has also been linked to conditions such as diabetes, certain cancers and even Alzheimer’s.

Stroke and Oral Health

Because many Americans are impacted by both gum disease and stroke it’s important to understand the risks and ways to prevent them both. It is more important than ever to stay on top of good oral care practices if you or a loved one has experienced a stroke.  Patients who have suffered a stroke may need support in maintaining good oral health care, especially if they have cognitive or physical limitations which prevent them from remembering to complete or performing the tasks properly.

By taking preventive measures against gum disease with good oral care habits, you are also lowering your risk for stroke and several other diseases.