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Dental Problems Can Lead to Stroke
Dental Problems Can Lead to Stroke
By Heidi Moawad, MD, Stroke Expert
Did you know that your dental health has consequences that go well beyond your mouth? Taking care of your teeth has been found to protect your overall health, and the most surprising relationship between dental health and overall health is that problems with your dental health have beeen associated with stroke.
What kind of dental problems lead to stroke?
Research studies from countries as diverse as Germany, France, Sweden, India and Korea show that varying degrees of periodontal disease (gum disease) are associated with strokes.
Mild gum disease, which causes inflammation of the gums, is called gingivitis, while more serious gum disease that causes actual destruction of the gums is called periodontitis. Severe periodontitis can lead to tooth decay and eventually even tooth loss. All three of these types of gum disease are associated with stroke- even the mildest form, which is gingivitis.
A recent research study from Sweden followed 1676 randomly selected people over a period of 26 years. Researchers reported, “that gingival inflammation was clearly associated with stroke.”
Another research study showed that people with mild, moderate or severe gum disease were all found to have a higher rate of stroke than individuals without gum disease, but those with severe periodontal disease had more than 4 times higher stroke risk than people without periodontal disease or with only mild periodontal disease.
And yet another research study found that having severe periodontal disease and tooth loss was a strong predictor of stroke, and even that people who had lost more teeth had usually experienced more strokes.
Tooth loss was found to be a predictor of silent strokes. Silent strokes are strokes that people don't know they had because silent strokes don't cause obvious handicaps. However, over time, the build up of silent strokes can cause disabling problems such as dementia.
What kind of strokes can dental problems cause?
One of the research studies from Germany published in the journal Stroke reported that people who had gum disease were more specifically prone to the subtype of stroke caused by cerebral ischemia, which are ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes are strokes caused by interruption of blood flow due to a blood clot.
How are dental problems associated with stroke?
Dental problems such as gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth loss are all associated with inflammation, and sometimes with infection. Infections have been shown to increase the risk of stroke, possibly due to the body's inflammatory immune response to infections.
Sometimes inflammation and infection can make the blood more likely to clot, causing a stroke. If serious dental problems persist untreated for a long time, the inflammation and infection that result from unhealthy teeth and gums can make an ischemic stroke more likely.
How to protect your teeth
It is advantageous to have good dental health. For many people, dental care can seem time consuming and costly. Prevention of gum disease and tooth loss is best achieved through consistently brushing teeth, flossing, avoiding cigarettes and regular visits to the dentist. Once gum disease has started, it is treatable and manageable. Often, deep cleaning in the dentist’s office is recommended.
One of the biggest reasons that people do not take care of their teeth is concern about the cost. It may be beneficial to ask for recommendations and ask the dentist's office about the cost of a dental visit ahead of time. And it is useful to keep in mind that some health insurance plans cover the complete or partial cost of dental care. Overall, the cost of dental care is much lower than the cost of a stroke, which is an expensive lifelong condition to live with.