Two studies, presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, suggest that treating gum disease alongside other stroke risk factors may reduce your risk of stroke.
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease or periodontitis, has been linked to higher rates of stroke. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects both hard and soft structures supporting your teeth. It is associated with inflammation, which is linked to atherosclerosis, the hardening of blood vessels and is a risk factor for stroke.
While there are a number of causes of inflammation, Dr. Souvik Sen, a professor and chair of clinical neurology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia, believes there is a link between gum disease-related inflammation and atherosclerosis.
Dr Sen led two studies examining this link. “Because inflammation appears to play a major role in the development and worsening of atherosclerosis, or ‘hardening’ of blood vessels, we investigated if gum disease is associated with blockages in brain vessels and strokes caused by atherosclerosis of the brain vessels,” he said.
The first study, which examined 265 stroke patients, found that those with gum disease were three times as likely to have a stroke involving the blood vessels at the back of the brain, affecting co-ordination and vision. Patients with gum disease had twice as many strokes resulting from the hardening and thickening of arteries in the brain. Gum disease was also more common in patients who had had a stroke resulting from large blood vessels in the brain. However, strokes were no more likely in patients with gum disease than those without if they had been caused by blockages in blood vessels outside of the brain.
P. gingivalis, a type of gum bacteria, has been identified in carotid arteries, and streptococcus, a gum infection bacterium, has been found in brain blood vessels – linking gum disease to strokes caused by severe artery blockages and the hardening of arteries in the brain.
The second study of 1100 patients, who had not experienced a stroke, found that those with inflamed gums were twice as likely to have moderately severe narrowing of their brain arteries. The study then adjusted for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and age, and found that patients with gum disease were 2.4 times more likely to have severely blocked arteries in their brain.
However, the studies do not prove that gum disease itself causes artery blockage or stroke, only that they are linked.
Brushing and flossing teeth are known to help prevent gum disease. Using antibacterial toothpaste or a mouth wash that removes dental plague will also help to lower your risk of developing gum disease.
“It’s important for clinicians to recognise that gum disease is an important source of inflammation for their patients and to work with patients to address gum disease,” said Dr Sen.
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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.