Studies are finding significant links between gum disease and strokes

It’s perfectly normal for your gums to feel a little sensitive now and again, isn’t it? Especially after flossing or a vigorous brushing, right?

Apparently not. New studies are showing that many of us are affected by gum disease and don’t even know it. And what’s worse, is that they also show that preventing and treating gum disease could reduce the risk of having a stroke, and the devastating impacts which are life threatening.  

Dentists say 9/10 people worldwide are affected by some degree of gum disease.  Regular dental care is the best defence and Dublin dentist Ed O’Flaherty of the Seapoint Clinic in Blackrock says we need to raise awareness that gum disease can be more than just an aesthetic issue or a mild irritation, especially for those who have lost teeth as a result.

Closeup and Selective Focus Photography of Toothbrush With Toothpaste

Researchers have found a clear link between gum disease and stroke, in numerous studies around the world, including one from Sweden which followed over 1,600 people for 26 years. Last year the American Stroke Association presented research at their international conference showing gum disease is linked to higher rates of stroke, on account of hardening of brain arteries and artery blockages.

The research doesn’t confirm that poor gum health ‘causes’ stroke or artery blockage, Dr Ed O’Flaherty says, but the association is a credible marker and suggests that treating gum disease could reduce the chances of having a stroke.

“Loss of teeth seems to be a significant indicator, particularly in predicting silent stroke, and infection has been shown to increase stroke risk too, which is common with dental problems.”

Even the mildest form of gum disease, gingivitis, which causes inflammation has been associated with strokes, as well as serious gum infection, known as periodontal disease, which can destroy the gums and bone and cause tooth decay and loss.

“Infection and inflammation can make the blood clot, which may cause strokes. When serious dental problems go untreated for a long time, they can make an ischemic stroke more likely”, the Seapoint Clinic dentist says.

denture on white board

Symptoms of gum disease include bad breath, red, tender and swollen gums, sometimes bleeding, and loose or sensitive teeth that make chewing painful. Receding gums, due to disease, also give the appearance of longer teeth.

Gum disease can be prevented with good oral hygiene, although some people may have a hereditary tendency too.  Brushing teeth twice daily using fluoride toothpaste and flossing nightly can help stop bacterial plaque forming.  Professional dental cleaning each year and using antibacterial mouthwash to reduce bacteria helps, as does a low-sugar balanced diet.

Advanced periodontitis can need surgery to remove diseased gum and, while teeth can be saved with prompt action, failed teeth may need to be replaced with dental implants, crowns and bridges.

Even people with false teeth can get gum disease and should clean all surfaces of their gums with a soft brush when taking false teeth out to be cleaned, dentists advise.

Don’t mind us, just running out to stock up on floss!

Ethnic woman cleaning teeth with dental floss