According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the number five cause of death and the number one cause of disability in the United States alone. For this reason, each May, American Stroke Month seeks to bring awareness to this highly preventable, yet debilitating disease.
A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is disrupted. This can be caused by a blood clot, blockage from arterial plaque or a blood vessel in the brain bursting. The Stroke Foundation has long used the acronym FAST to help increase public awareness about the common signs to look for before a stroke occurs. These stand for:
Watch for dropping or changes on just one side.
When both arms are raised, one may drift.
Speaking even simple phrases may sound strange or slurred.
It’s imperative to act fast and call 911 when these warning signs are observed. Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented according to the American Stroke Association, yet every 40 seconds someone suffers a stroke. High blood pressure is often the first factor that leads to a serious of complications that can eventually culminate in a stroke.
The American Academy of Periodontology says that research shows a connection between periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, and the risk of developing heart disease. One study determined that a stroke is one and a half to three times as likely for patients suffering from periodontal disease.1
A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that treating periodontal disease leads to better overall health including lower costs for health care and fewer hospitalizations.2 Scientists believe this is because the inflammation associated with periodontal disease can cause a reaction in the body which in turn can cause a build-up of inflammation in the blood which can affect the entire body.
For most patients, periodontitis is caused by a build-up of bacteria that leads to plaque and eventually tartar, according to Dr. Ken Collins, DDS, of Collins Family Dentistry in Spokane, Washington.
“Even with an effective at-home oral care routine, plaque can reform quickly and tartar is nearly impossible to remove without a professional cleaning by a dentist,” said Collins. “The plaque and tartar cause inflammation which create pockets of bacteria around the teeth and in the gums. Over time, the areas become infected and can lead to bone and tissue loss.”
The most important way to protect yourself from gum disease is with regular oral health care including daily at-home brushing and flossing and twice-a-year visits to the dentist for a professional cleaning, said Collins. During the first stage of periodontitis, the damage is reversible with treatment. However, if left untreated, as the disease progresses to more severe stages the damage become permanent.
Research is still being conducted to find more evidence to support the direct link between oral health and heart disease, but it’s evident that taking care of your mouth is one way to help care for your entire body.
1 Sfyroeras GS, Roussas N, Saleptsis VG, Argyriou C, Giannoukas AD. Association between periodontal disease and stroke. J Vasc Surg. 2012;55:1178–1184
2 “Impact of Periodontal Therapy on General Health”
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