To understand the connection between stroke and oral health, we must first understand what stroke is and who is at risk. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, or a blood clot prevents oxygen from reaching the brain. A person who experiences a stroke will exhibit physical symptoms that may include facial drooping, arm weakness, or speech or language impairment. While a stroke can happen to people of any age, certain groups of people are at higher risk:
Recent studies have shown that patients who have had a stroke generally have poor oral and dental hygiene. Unfortunately, poor oral health generally leads to gum disease.
Gum disease affects more than 64 million Americans – that’s almost half of the adult population! It is a completely preventable disease caused by the overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. Characterized by red, swollen gums that pull away from teeth and bleed easily, gum disease has multiple stages and can often be controlled with proper treatment.
The best way to prevent gum disease is to practice good oral hygiene and follow your dentist’s advice: brush your teeth twice a day, floss and mouthwash daily, and chew sugar-free gum between meals when brushing is not an option. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups.
The abundance of bacteria associated with gum disease causes oral infection. Unfortunately, this bacterial infection can enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation, which increases the likelihood of blood clots and stroke.
While it is not yet clear whether the inflammation from gum disease leads to vascular inflammation (related to heart disease and stroke) or vice versa, studies show a connection. The inflammation associated with gum disease has been linked to conditions such as diabetes, certain cancers, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Taking preventive measures against gum disease with good oral care habits reduces the risk of stroke and several other diseases.