Two Birds, One Stone: Treat Gum Disease and Reduce Stroke Risk

More and more studies are finding links between gum (periodontal) disease and all manner of health problems, including stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Although many of these studies are preliminary and more evidence is required to establish a solid connection between periodontal disease and other health issues, a recent study has found that treatment for gum disease does reduce your risk for stroke.

Fruits with Vitamin C help to strengthen gumsPublished in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke in February , the study evaluated more than 700,000 patients with and without periodontal disease over ten years and looked at the incidence rate of ischemic stroke, which is the most common kind of stroke and caused by obstruction of a blood vessel.

The results were clear: patients with periodontal disease had a much higher risk for stroke, but those who received treatment for periodontal disease had a much lower risk.

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Almost half of American adults – 64.7 million people – have periodontal disease, and that increases to 70 percent for adults 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Periodontal disease is the chronic inflammation of the gum tissue and bone, and despite its prevalence in the United States, is actually easy to prevent and treat in its early stages.

Severe gum disease, however, can lead to tooth loss and other significant oral and general health problems.

Periodontal disease usually begins as gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease that can be reversed with proper brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dentist. Common symptoms of gingivitis include swollen, red gums that bleed easily.

If gingivitis is not treated, it advances to periodontitis, where the gums gradually pull away from the teeth and create pockets that can become infected. Over time the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place are broken down and destroyed, which can lead to tooth removal.

How to Prevent Gum Disease

Smoking and poor oral hygiene are the two biggest risk factors for periodontitis. Brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day will go a long way to preventing periodontal disease. Visit your dentist at least once a year for a thorough cleaning to remove the plaque and tartar above and below the gum line that can build up and lead to periodontitis.

The bacteria that create plaque feed on sugar, so limiting your intake of sugary foods and drinks will also help reduce your likelihood of developing gum disease. Vitamin C helps to maintain healthy gums, as well, so take steps to get enough of it through your diet or additional supplements.

Treating Periodontal Disease

Depending on the stage of periodontal disease, treatment can range from regular dental scaling to surgical intervention in order to clean the infected pockets and restore lost gum and bone tissue through grafting and regeneration. Early diagnosis and treatment always leads to the best outcome, so visit your dentist if you notice any signs of gingivitis or periodontitis.

If your gum disease is more severe, your dentist may suggest you make an appointment with a periodontist who can deep clean the space between your gums and teeth and help the gums to reattach to the teeth. If you have other health problems, particularly heart conditions, your dentist or periodontist may recommend you take antibiotics before procedures to reduce your risk of infection.

Sarah McNaughton is a guest contributor from