As your dentist in Happy Valley, OR, our team at Sunnyside Dentistry wants all of our patients to understand the dangers presented by poor oral health. While it’s easy to assume that our oral health only relates to the strong teeth and gums, studies have found that individuals suffering from poor oral health have an increased risk of a variety of long-term health consequences.
In fact, adults dealing with gum disease may have twice the risk of suffering a stroke when compared to those with healthy gums, reports the findings of a new study.
This latest study isn’t the first to link gum disease and attacks on the brain as caused by blood clots.
However, the new findings do expand on that knowledge by showing a “dose-response” relationship.
“The higher the level of gum disease, the worse the risk,” explains Dr. Souvik Sen, study author and chair of neurology at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine.
A Higher Risk
In their findings, researchers discovered that the risk of stroke increased for patients suffering from mild, moderate, and severe gum disease by 1.9, 2.1, and 2.2 times, respectively.
One expert on strokes describe this direct ratio as the most interesting aspect of this most recent study.
“The fact that it is a dose-effect relationship, it’s an important finding,” says Dr. Maurizio Trevisan, dean of City University of New York’s School of Medicine.
“Unfortunately, it still does not prove the cause/effect relationship because it’s an observational study,” stated Dr. Trevisan.
The first major study that found a relationship between stroke and poor oral health was published in 2000.
Despite the significant time that has passed since a connection was first noted, researchers still don’t know why individuals with gum disease have a higher risk of stroke. The levels of inflammation found in both the hardening of arteries and gum disease may play a role, suggests researchers.
When blood vessels in the brain or neck harden it can lead to a stroke.
Of course, researchers also noted that other reasons may exist that explains this connection. It could be that individuals who neglect their oral health are also less likely to seek out medical care when ill or to take medication as prescribed.
“The question still remains whether, if we treat gum disease, can we prevent strokes and heart attacks?” says Sen.
Understanding the Connection
As part of the study, Dr. Sen and his team used data collected as part of a large prospective analysis conducted by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Over 6,700 adults who had not suffered a stroke were categorized based on their level of gum disease and were then followed for 15 years. The participants were largely white, female, and at an average age of 62.
Approximately 300 strokes were recorded over the 15-year time frame.
Even after adjusting their results for known risk factors – including a variety of health factors, race, and age – stroke risk was still higher among individuals with more progressed cases of gum disease.
The connection between increased gum disease progression and stroke was strongest for two types of clotting strokes. Almost half (47%) of the strokes were thrombotic. These types of strokes are caused by a clot formation in a brain artery. About 25 percent were cardioembolic strokes, which occur when a clot travels from the heart to the brain.
“I don’t think we should tell people that they should floss their teeth in order to prevent heart disease,” says Dr. Trevisan.
However, provided the strong level of evidence linking stroke and gum disease, and the increased importance of an individual’s oral health as they grow older, “the message is you should take care of your mouth no matter what,” said Trevisan.