The Connection Between Oral Health and Strokes


One might not think that oral health and strokes are related, but in fact, our oral health connects to our general health. Your mouth is home to thousands of bacteria, some of which are linked to mouth diseases that can lead to problems elsewhere in the body. Learn more about how oral health and strokes are connected and what you can do to ensure that your mouth and body stay healthy.

The Connection Between Strokes and Oral Health

According to studies, oral bacteria have been linked to health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, problems in pregnancy, dementia and stroke. Research has shown that, if the oral bacteria responsible for gum disease find a way into the bloodstream, they may cause C-reactive protein levels to rise. This elevation can indicate inflammation in the blood vessels and, ultimately, signal an increase in that person's risk of stroke and heart disease.

Preventing Gum Disease

Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth or floss? If so, please know that this is not normal, and proper brushing and flossing should never cause this. Bleeding gums are a cardinal sign of gingivitis, which is a reversible form of gum disease. When allowed to persist, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease (periodontitis), a more serious form of gum disease that may spread to the underlying bone and eventually lead to tooth loss.

There are some important steps you can take to prevent gum disease and its associated health consequences. These include:

  • Brushing at least twice a day for two minutes each time. The best times to brush are in the morning and before bed, as well as after snacks and meals.
  • Floss all of your teeth at least once a day to clean the areas that your toothbrush cannot reach.
  • Maintain regular dental visits — at least once every six months.
  • Report any dental concerns, such as bleeding or swollen gums, to your dentist as soon as possible.

Following these oral care tips can help you not only prevent gum disease and its oral consequences, but may also help you minimize your risk of associated health issues, such as strokes.

Oral Care After a Stroke

If you have had a stroke, it's just as important to continue maintaining optimal oral hygiene to prevent any further complications. According to studies, if a critically ill patient doesn't implement regular dental care following a stroke, they may develop ventilator-associated pneumonia. Additionally, studies also describe the possible association between poor oral hygiene in post-stroke patients and an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia, which can sometimes be fatal.

Keep in mind the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In addition, if you have recently had a stroke, it's critically important that you follow a good oral care routine to protect your health. You can work with your dental and medical team to develop oral hygiene practices that will help you prevent oral disease and avoid any further health issues.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.