The connection may not be well known, but stroke and gum disease have a lot in common. People with periodontal disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. While research has not yet found the direct link, there are several theories that may explain the link between heart disease, stroke, and periodontal disease.
Scientists believe that inflammation caused by periodontal disease may be responsible for the association, according to the American Association for Periodontology. When bacteria from the mouth enter the blood vessels, they attach to fatty plaques in the heart’s blood vessels (coronary arteries). This buildup may lead to heart attacks and/or stroke or ministroke, which is a common term for a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Cardiovascular disease is the number one leading cause of death in the U.S.
When bacteria enter the bloodstream, inflammation (the body’s natural response to infection) occurs. This leads to a narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis makes it more difficult for your blood to flow to and from your heart, which then leads to heart disease and stroke.
Severe inflammation in the gum tissue is also related to elevated levels of C-reactive proteins that have been linked to heart disease.
According to the American Society for Microbiology, research has found that one specific bacterium linked to periodontitis, Streptococcus sanguis, spreads to the heart once it enters the body. This bacterium also plays a role in strokes. Additional research links the bacterium to thickening of the carotid (neck) arteries, which carry blood to the brain.
According to the American Association of Periodontology, you may have gum disease if:
If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing any damage from periodontitis.
Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
To help manage the effects of a stroke and improve oral health, HMSA’s Oral Oral Health for Total Health program provides enhanced dental benefits for plan members who have had a stroke. These benefits are covered 100%, with no out-of-pocket expenses when seeing a participating provider.
Members with health and dental plans from HMSA who have a stroke are enrolled automatically. Dental members who don’t have a health plan with HMSA can easily enroll online.
To use your Oral Health for Total Health benefits, simply make an appointment with your dentist. To find a dentist in your plan’s network, visit our provider directory.