Gum Disease and Its Link to Strokes

As the daughter of a periodontist, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of gum disease is the horrific sight of bleeding gums and exposed teeth shining from my mother’s computer screen as she’s making dinner.

Obviously, gum disease is much more complex and important than its role as food for my childhood nightmares. Tooth and gum infections are of bacterial origin, and can develop slowly and without pain, making the consequences all the more drastic. As explained by Health Canada: “By the time the infection becomes apparent, you could be in danger of losing your teeth.” [i] Gum disease attacks the point of attachment between your teeth and gums, and usually begins with plaque buildups in that area of the mouth, which hardens when teeth are not cleaned properly.[ii]

Although awful enough on its own, studies have shown that gum disease has been linked to other serious health conditions. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people suffering from gum disease seem far more likely to suffer from strokes than those who do not. It is still unclear whether gum disease is an independent risk factor or a risk marker that reflects symptoms common to both conditions. [iii] Bacterial infections can cause changes in body chemistry, making one at risk for thrombosis (clotting), which can in turn cause strokes. Recent studies have shown results pointing to a link between gum disease, and reduced blood flow to the brain, which can also cause a stroke. [iv]

According to Health Canada, there are a number of ways that you can minmize your risk of gum disease. [v]

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Floss once a day.
  • See your dentist regularly to check for signs of gum disease and bacterial infection and clean your teeth of tartar buildup.

The next time I glance at my mother’s bloody pictures, I’ll remember to go brush my teeth.

[i] Health Canada. “Gum Disease”. 2007

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] AAP. “Evidence for Association Between Periodontal Disease and Stroke”. 2006

[iv] Dental Wellness Institute. “Gum Disease and Health Risks”. 2010.

[v] Health Canada. 2007.

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