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Gum Disease And Stroke: What You Need To Know

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, around half the adult population of the United States now suffers from gum disease. With more than 60 million adults affected, gum disease is now one of the biggest health challenges in North America, and the condition is not just about oral health. Research shows that people with gum disease are at higher risk of other, more serious conditions, including heart disease and stroke. Learn how gum disease affects your body, and find out how this could lead to increased risk of stroke.

Types of gum disease

Of the 60 million people in the United States with gum disease, some people have more severe symptoms than others. In the early stages, dentists can treat gum disease, which can help patients avoid more serious side effects. Once the problem worsens, it's harder to deal with.

Gum disease begins as gingivitis. At this stage, your gums become red and swollen, and you may also see small amounts of blood when you brush your teeth. Gingivitis will not necessarily cause pain or discomfort, which means some people overlook the problem. Nonetheless, with good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, you can normally keep gingivitis under control.

If you don't treat gingivitis, the problem becomes more serious and periodontitis will develop. The gums become increasingly infected and swollen. Over time, the gums separate from the teeth, allowing serious bacterial infections to develop. Gum tissue and bone gradually disappears, and people with this type of disease often lose their teeth.

How gum disease affects the body

People often don't realize that gum disease can cause more serious health problems. It doesn't help that doctors don't yet fully understand how oral infections can cause problems elsewhere in the body, but scientists have several theories about the link. Some studies suggest that gum inflammation can interfere with your bloodstream. In turn, this effect can damage the blood vessels to your heart and brain, leading to diseases like stroke.

A leading American periodontist (Dr Howard Marshall) believes that the bacteria in gum disease cause problems elsewhere. Left untreated, the bacteria from periodontitis build up and spread throughout the body, causing inflammation around the heart and other vital organs. This inflammation can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.

What studies show

Ischemic stroke can occur if a blood clot blocks an artery to the brain. The most common cause of this type of stroke is often cholesterol deposition, but other factors can increase the risk of an ischemic stroke. A 2004 study showed that the risk of ischemic stroke increases in men and younger patients who also have periodontal disease. Other studies have shown a similar link between the two diseases.

Risk factors and warning signs

Some people are at higher risk of gum disease than others. As such, these patients should take particular care to deal with the early signs of the problem. Dr Howard Marshall warns that smokers, overweight people and African-Americans are at particularly high risk of serious gum disease.

Nonetheless, everyone should look out for any obvious signs of the condition. Bleeding gums, bad breath and increased space between your teeth can all suggest advanced gum disease. If you spot any of these telltale signs, you should see a dentist as soon as possible.

Crucially, the signs of gum disease are not always visible. As such, experts recommend that you see a dentist who can carry out periodontal probing. This simple process measures the depth of the pocket around each tooth with a special instrument. This can help detect gum disease, even when the patient shows no other symptoms.

Studies show a link between serious gum disease and other health conditions, including stroke. Protect your heart health, check out options like perio protect, and book a check-up with your dentist to make sure you deal with gum disease in its earliest stages.