Will brushing and flossing protect you against stroke?

Brushing and flossing can protect you against stroke.
Brushing and flossing can protect you against stroke.

Gum disease may be linked to higher rates of stroke caused by hardened and severely blocked arteries, preliminary research findings indicate.

Two unpublished studies suggest that treating gum disease alongside other stroke risk factors might help prevent stroke by reducing the build-up of plaque in arteries and narrowing of blood vessels in the brain. However, the studies do not prove that gum disease is a cause of stroke.

"Because inflammation appears to play a major role in the development and worsening of atherosclerosis, or 'hardening' of blood vessels, we investigated if gum disease is associated with blockages in brain vessels and strokes caused by atherosclerosis of the brain vessels," said Dr Souvik Sen, who led both studies.

Sen is chairman of clinical neurology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

Thickening and hardening of brain arteries

The first study involved 265 stroke patients. Sen and his team investigated whether gum disease and specific types of stroke were related. They found:

  • Patients with gum disease had twice as many strokes due to thickening and hardening of brain arteries as patients without.
  • Patients with gum disease were three times as likely to have a stroke involving blood vessels in the back of the brain, which controls vision, coordination and other functions.
  • Gum disease was more common in patients who had a stroke involving large blood vessels within the brain, but not among those who had a stroke due to blockages elsewhere.

The second study involved more than 1 100 patients who had not experienced a stroke. It found:

  • Ten percent had severely blocked brain arteries.
  • Patients with gum inflammation were twice as likely to have moderately severe narrowing of brain arteries.
  • After adjusting for age, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, patients with gum disease were 2.4 times more likely to have severely blocked brain arteries.

Preliminary research

The preliminary research is to be presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.

"It's important for clinicians to recognise that gum disease is an important source of inflammation for their patients and to work with patients to address gum disease," Sen said in a meeting news release.

People who had gum disease serious enough to result in tooth loss were excluded from the study.

Researchers are now studying whether treating gum disease reduces its association with stroke.

Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Image credit: iStock

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