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 the National Health Service, oral bacteria have been linked to health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, problems in pregnancy, dementia and stroke. As the Cleveland Clinic reports, 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, as the Mayo Clinic explains. 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.
The Mayo Clinic outlines 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 an article published in the journal Stroke, if a critically ill patient doesn't implement regular dental care following a stroke, they may develop ventilator-associated pneumonia. Additionally, a review in the European Stroke Journal describes 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.