What Medical Providers Need to Know About the Link Between Gum Disease and Stroke Risk

Two studies presented at American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2020 say treating gum disease, along with other risk factors, may reduce a patient’s likelihood of having a stroke. According to investigators, there is a potential link between gingivitis and a hardening of large arteries in the brain. Treating gum disease could help minimize “the severity of artery plaque buildup and narrowing of brain blood vessels” that lead to a stroke.

A Healthline article explains that strokes are a multi-factorial disease, and periodontal conditions could be a contributor. Thomas E. Van Dyke, of Harvard School of Dental Medicine, notes that gums are a common site for chronic inflammation. Because it doesn’t cause pain right away, he says that people often ignore it, but chronic inflammation can have “an impact on whole-body health” and “have systemic implications.” Lead author of the studies and professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Dr. Souvik Sen says another indicator is confirmed cases of bacteria P. gingivalis present in the carotid arteries and gum infection bacteria Streptococcus sp DNA found in brain blood vessels.

Additional findings suggest that patients with periodontitis are:

  • twice as likely to experience large artery strokes due to intracranial atherosclerosis;
  • three times as likely to have a stroke involving blood vessels in the back of the brain;
  • twice as likely to have moderately severe narrowed brain arteries from plaque buildup compared to those with no gum disease; and
  • 2.4 times as likely to have severely blocked brain arteries.

Based on these results, Sen encourages providers to recognize that gum disease can be a risk factor for stroke and to work with patients on treating any periodontal conditions.

MLMIC recognizes this as an opportunity to expand communication across disciplines and promote the effective sharing of patient health information.  Including oral health in an assessment of patients’ medical histories presents an opportunity to evaluate their risk for additional health concerns.  Conversely, dentists can also share their diagnoses and treatment plans with patients’ treating physicians to advance the overall health of their patients.