The Link Between Gum Disease and Stoke Risk

According to an article from Health.com, adults diagnosed with gum disease could be twice as likely to suffer a stroke than those with healthy gums. While the study isn’t the first to connect brain attacks with gum disease, it further explains the link by demonstration a “dose-response” relationship.

“The higher the level of gum disease, the worse the risk,” said study author Dr. Souvik Sen, chair of neurology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, in Columbia.

Findings showed that stroke risk rose 1.9 times, 2.1 times and 2.2 times higher for people with mild, moderate and severe gum disease respectively.

“The fact that it is a dose-effect relationship, it’s an important finding,” said Dr. Maurizio Trevisan, dean of the City University of New York School of Medicine in New York City. “Unfortunately, it still does not prove the cause/effect relationship because it’s an observational study,” he added.

While researchers believe that the levels of inflammation found in both gum disease and hardening of the arteries may play a role, they still don’t know exactly why people with gum disease have a higher stroke risk. It could be that when people neglect their oral health, they are also less likely to go to the doctor for medical conditions or take prescribed medications regularly.

“The question still remains whether, if we treated gum disease, can we prevent strokes and heart attacks? — or not,” Sen said.

The study involved data from more than 6,700 adults who had not suffered a stroke. They were all categorized based on their level of gum disease and followed for 15 years. Participants were mostly caucasian with an average age of 62. 55% were female. The data came from a large prospective analysis sponsored by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Nearly 300 strokes were recorded during the study period.

Researchers made adjustments for other factors, including age, race and a variety of health factors, and still stroke risk was higher among those with greater levels of gum disease.

“I don’t think we should tell people that they should floss their teeth in order to prevent heart disease,” said Trevisan. But given the strong evidence linking gum disease and stroke, it’s important to acknowledge that “the message is you should take care of your mouth no matter what.”

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