By Julia M. Chambers
The benchmark of optimal brain health is one’s capacity to perform well in everyday life and work. Our ability to think, make choices, live a good life, and feel happiness and satisfaction, are all tied to our brains’ health and function. Aside from our ability to perceive the world around us, the operations of our entire body depend on our brains’ health.
For decades researchers have suggested connections between poor oral health and diseases of the brain. Mounting evidence reveals that the relationship between the mouth and the brain is more than cursory – the impact is direct.
In 2004, a study reported that periodontal disease was an independent risk factor for ischemic stroke in young men - while noting periodontal disease’s treatability. A later study observed an independent association between chronic periodontitis and lacunar infarct.
Continued studies have recently strengthened an association between dental treatment and a decreased risk for stroke.
Treating Periodontal Disease Could Reduce Instance of Stroke
In February 2020, Souvik Sen, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., presented preliminary research at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference from two studies highlighting the possibility that treating periodontal disease alongside other stroke factors may reduce stroke risk. As chairman of clinical neurology at the University of South Carolina Medicine, Dr. Sen authored both studies.
“Gum disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the soft and hard structures supporting the teeth and is associated with inflammation. Because inflammation appears to play a major role in the development and worsening of atherosclerosis or ’hardening’ of blood vessels, we investigated if gum disease is associated with blockages in brain vessels and strokes caused by atherosclerosis of the brain vessels,” stated Sen.
As one of the largest population studies of periodontal disease, based in the U.S., these studies have demonstrated a gradient relationship between the extent of gum disease and increased stroke risk.
Among the findings, Sen’s research team discovered that patients with periodontal disease had twice as many strokes due to intracranial atherosclerosis. They also found that patients with gum disease were three times as likely to experience strokes in the back of the brain, affecting vision and sensorimotor function.
In a previous interview with Medscape Medical News, Sen shared the following: “Our results show that individuals who regularly attend the dentist had half the stroke risk of those who do not receive regular dental care. And our study of periodontal disease showed the more severe this is, the higher the risk of future stroke…. The risk conferred by gum disease is similar to that of high blood pressure — it is in the range of two to three times increased risk.”
While it is important to recognize that an incidence of poor oral health and of poor brain health coexists, many questions have remained about the “how”s and “why”s of that relationship. Several studies have indicated connections between poor oral health and systemic diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis over the last two decades. Researchers believe that inflammation may be the fundamental connection between them.
Author: Julia M. Chambers has more than 25 years of experience as a freelance writer, content creator, and editor. Her interests include design, health, education, and social media. Her competitive writing experience and educational background in psychology, English composition, and special education have provided her a solid framework for exploring diverse and relevant topics.