Study Links Teeth and Stroke

New research shows that preventing gum disease might help reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.

Brushing may do more than keep cavities away. Research shows a healthy mouth might reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease.

Columbia University infectious disease researcher Mose Desvarieux, who led the study, and neurologist Ralph Sacco reported in the Journal Circulation that thickening of an artery called the carotid, at work in stroke and heart attack, is associated with high levels of oral bacteria found in gum disease.

"The relationship that we have between gum disease, the bacteria, and the thicker carotid was only present in the bad bacteria and not in the other ones," said Desvarieux.

The team spent five years studying 657 people over age 55 of mixed race and income, all with no stroke history. They screened patients for diabetes, hypertension, and smoking and sampled eleven types of oral bacteria, four thought to cause gum disease and seven that don't.

Then, they took ultrasounds to screen for thickening of the carotid artery.

"When you have a blockage that's more than 70 percent in the carotid artery you can have a significant reduction in blood flow to the brain and when blood flow is reduced to the brain you can have what's called a stroke," said Sacco.

But Desvarieux emphasizes the link doesn't prove these bacteria lead to hardening of the arteries. They plan more research including following the study patients.

"We don't know exactly which one came first, that we need to know and the only way we can know that is by following them up and trying to see whether the carotid artery continues to thicken," said Desvarieux.

Until they know more, good oral hygiene can't hurt.

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