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Stroke and Gum Disease? Yes, There’s a Connection

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), stroke is the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, yet 80% of strokes are preventable.  The key to preventing stroke is to know your risk factors. High blood pressure, smoking, inactivity and diabetes are among the most common causes you can control. But did you know gum disease (periodontal disease) is considered a likely influence?

Inflammation and Stroke

Multiple studies, including two studies presented to the ASA by noted neurologist Souvik Sen, MD, MS, MPH, have found that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) may raise the risk of stroke in at least two ways: by contributing to a higher risk of severe blockage of large arteries, and by increasing the chance of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.

How Does Periodontal Disease Affect the Body?

Gingivitis, with its red and irritated gums, is a bacterial infection. As with all infections, it triggers the body’s immune response, including a flow of inflammatory cells. This is acute inflammation, and with treatment it will resolve. Untreated, gingivitis will progress to periodontitis, with gum loss, tooth loss and chronic inflammation. The body continues to flood the infected area with inflammatory cells, which make their way into the bloodstream. Once those cells have invaded the body, they can increase the chance of blood clots and lead to plaque buildup that narrows the arteries in the brain. Both of these conditions can cause stroke.

Studies Show the Link Between Periodontal Disease and Stroke

The inflammation introduced by periodontal disease can promote the growth of plaque lesions in blood vessels which can narrow or block the arteries. Dr. Sen’s first study found that strokes involving such blockages in the brain were twice or even three times as common in patients with gum disease, depending on the artery or blood vessel affected.

When inflammatory cells infiltrate the heart, they can cause scarring known as atrial fibrosis. Atrial fibrosis leads to atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat that can result in blood clots. When those blood clots break free and travel to the brain, they cause strokes. Dr. Sen’s second study showed that patients who received regular preventive dental care and treatment for gum disease had a significantly lowered risk for atrial fibrillation.

Recently Dr. Sen published another study confirming that periodontal disease was associated with atrial fibrillation.

Read Dr. Sen’s studies here and here.

Take That Preventative Step

There is an established link between good oral health and good overall health: we call it the “mouth-body” connection.  In addition to stroke, poor periodontal health is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pregnancy, even cancer. Take your first step to protect your health and that of your family. Maintain regular dental visits. If you’re diagnosed with gingivitis or periodontitis, see me at Holmdel Periodontics & Implant Dentistry for advanced treatments that clean out bacteria and inflammation and save your gums and teeth, and could save your life.  Please share this information with those you care about.

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