The link between gum disease and stroke risk has been well-established (although some people still dispute whether this is a causal relationship), but a new study adds support to the length and a new insight. The severity of your gum disease influences the degree of your stroke risk.
These results come from a large observational study the US National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute. For the study 6700 adults who had not had a stroke were given oral health exams. They were divided into categories based on the level of their gum disease: mild, moderate, or severe. The average age of patients was 62, and 55% of them were female.
People were then followed for 15 years to see how gum disease affected their stroke risk. Nearly 300 strokes were recorded over the period of the study. People with gum disease were much more likely to have a stroke over the course of the study. After accounting for other risk factors–such as age, race, and lifestyle–they found that the level of stroke risk related to the severity of gum disease.
People with mild gum disease were 1.9 times more likely to have a stroke, while moderate gum disease increased stroke risk 2.1 times and severe gum disease increased it 2.2 times. This dose dependent relationship gives a strong indication that gum disease might contribute to stroke risk, some are still unconvinced.
Does Gum Disease Cause Stroke?
The question of a causal relationship is very difficult to answer definitively. Two conditions can be linked statistically because they have common risk factors, but may not influence one another.
However, it seems likely that gum disease contributes at least somewhat to stroke risk. First, there are the sheer number of studies that link the two conditions, and the temporal relationship seen in many of these studies: gum disease first, stroke later. The dose dependent finding in this study also seems like an important factor we should consider. There is also the apparent role gum disease plays in other heart conditions, including atherosclerosis–the hardening of arteries–that are related to stroke.
The big question people look for to determine causality is whether treating gum disease reduces stroke risk. We don’t have direct evidence of this, but we have seen that treating gum disease can reduce clogging of arteries. And we have seen that gum disease treatment seems to reduce hospitalizations for stroke, among other health conditions. So the link seems to be more than just coincidental.
Take Care of Your Gums to Preserve Your Health
If you have gum disease, it’s important to get treatment for it quickly. This can reduce your risk of related conditions–including stroke.
And once your gums are healthy, you can address cosmetic effects such as receding gums related to your gum disease.