Adults with gum disease, which can be prevented by brushing your teeth, are at higher risk of stroke, research has warned.
Researchers found healthy people with gum disease were twice as likely to have blocked arteries in the brain.
When the brain’s arteries become clogged with a sticky substance, it limits blood flow and may cause a stroke.
Gum inflammation is believed to fuel the process by affecting the bloodstream and slowly damaging how blood vessels work.
Cleaning plaque from the teeth every day is the easiest way to try and avoid it, and is recommended by leading heart health charities.
Adults with gum disease, which can be prevented by brushing your teeth, are three times more likely to have a stroke involving blood vessels in the back of the brain, research has warned
Gum disease, sometimes called periodontal disease, is an infection caused by bacteria and plaque build up. Bleeding gums is the most obvious sign.
If it is not treated, it can progress to the tissues that support the jawbone, and teeth may fall out.
One in 12 American adults aged 20 to 64 have periodontal disease, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Less than on in five adults in England have no evidence of gum disease, NHS figures show.
Gingivitis, inflammation of the gums, usually precedes gum disease.
Gum disease has been linked to many health complications, including stroke, diabetes and heart disease. But the connections are not so clear.
It may even fuel problems in pregnancy and play a role in the development of dementia, the NHS says.
WHAT IS GUM DISEASE AND HOW CAN YOU PREVENT IT?
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that support the teeth.
It’s mainly caused by bacteria from plaque build-up.
In some people who are susceptible to gum disease, the body over-reacts to the bacteria around the gums and causes too much inflammation. In others, the inflammation doesn’t clear up properly.
Risk factors for gum disease include genetics, smoking, crowded teeth, grinding, stress, fluctuating hormones, medication and poor diet.
The result of the intense gum inflammation is that it also affects the bloodstream, and is believed to slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain over a long period of time.
Brushing your teeth properly and looking after your gums can prevent and treat gum disease, improve your overall health and help to reduce your risk of health problems, such as heart disease.
Follow a routine of brushing your teeth for a full two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, plus cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental brushes.
The latest preliminary research will be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference next week in Los Angeles.
Author Dr Souvik Sen, of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia, said: ‘Gum disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the soft and hard structures supporting the teeth and is associated with inflammation.
‘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.’
The research involved two different studies. In the first, researchers looked at 1,145 people who had not had a stroke with an average age of 76.
They used MRI brain scanning to measure blockages in arteries inside the brain.
Dentists classified the presence and severity of gum disease. The study excluded people who had gum disease serious enough to have resulted in tooth loss.
The findings include that arteries in the brain were severely blocked in one in 10 participants overall.
People with gingivitis were twice as likely to have some form of narrowed brain arteries from plaque buildup compared to those with no gum disease.
After adjusting for risk factors such as age, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, people with gingivitis were 2.4 times as likely to have ‘severely blocked brain arteries’.
The second study involved 265 stroke patients with an average age of 64.
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 and coordination, than stroke patients who did not have gum disease.
Large artery strokes due hardening of the arteries were twice as common in patients with gum disease as in those without.
Hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis, can occur in the brain as well as other parts of the body.
It’s when the brain’s arteries become clogged with a sticky substance made of plaque and cholesterol which limits blood flow.
Gum disease is believed to contribute as the immune system responds to bacteria which enters the bloodstream. Arteries narrow in order to trap bacteria, according to the British Heart Foundation.
Dr Sen said: ‘It’s important for clinicians to recognize that gum disease is an important source of inflammation for their patients and to work with patients to address gum disease.
‘We are working on a current study to evaluate if treatment of gum disease can reduce its association with stroke.’