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Did you know that there’s a connection between stroke and gum disease? People with periodontal (gum) disease have two to three times the risk of having a stroke, heart attack, or other serious cardiovascular event.

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, a number of studies point to the relationship between periodontal disease and stroke. One study found that periodontal microbiology may predispose you to subclinical atherosclerosis (plaques of fatty material that accumulate on the inner walls of arteries). Another study showed that periodontal disease may increase the risk of cerebral ischemia (a blockage in an artery that restricts the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to the brain).

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).

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.

Warning signs of gum disease

According to the American Association of Periodontology, you may have gum disease if you experience:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums or other pain in your mouth
  • Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food
  • Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Pus between your gums and teeth
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

If you notice any of the symptoms below, make an appointment with your dentist. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing any damage and protecting your total health.

If you have a history of stroke, make good oral health a priority

Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. You can maintain healthy teeth and gums if you:

  • Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime and flossing at least once a day.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it. If you are enrolled in our Oral Health for Total Health program, be sure to take advantage of the two additional cleanings that you’ll receive.
  • Periodontal (gum) disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. Some dental plan members who have heart disease may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures.

Evidence-based Dental Benefits at no additional cost

If you have a history of stroke or other serious conditions, our Oral Health for Total Health program can help you manage your condition and improve your oral and total health. These benefits are covered 100% with no out-of-pocket expenses when seeing a participating provider. Benefits include:

  • Two additional cleanings or periodontal maintenance visits per year (total of four).
  • If your plan includes periodontal coverage, periodontal scaling is covered at 100% with no out-of-pocket expense. Often referred to as a deep cleaning, periodontal scaling reaches below the gumline to remove the buildup of plaque and toxic bacteria.

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.