...does tooth loss double your risk of stroke?
Dear Dr. Reichwage,
I read your column about periodontal disease and how it can cause heart attacks. I'm wondering if I should be worried because of my mom's situation. She is 67 and had periodontal disease for years, but she refused to get help. About 10 years ago, her teeth were pulled and she wears dentures. Even though she is not that old, she has had heart attacks and several mild strokes.
My sister and I also have periodontal disease. Can this be related to my mom's situation and do we face the same risks.
Mary Beth, Fort Wayne
Dear Mary Beth,
Periodontal disease has vertical and horizontal tendencies. If one of your parents had the disease, you have a genetically greater risk of having it. If your spouse or a member of your household has it, you have a greater risk, also, because family members share bacteria.
Whether you develop the disease is dependent on several factors, most importantly the strength of your immune system to combat the bacteria. Your immune system is compromised by stress, poor diet, poor dental care, lack of sleep, some medications, illness, disease and other factors that lower your immunity.
It would be interesting to know if your mother's strokes occurred before or after her teeth were extracted. Harvard University researchers have found that men with fewer than 25 teeth have a 57% higher risk of an ischemic stroke (a stroke caused by a blockage to the brain) than men with 25 or more teeth.
You do not say whether you and your sister are getting treatment for the periodontitis. While your home care of brushing and flossing is so important, you cannot contain the disease yourselves. Only your dentist and/or periodontist can control it. Currently there is no cure.
If you are not getting treatment, you are both risking losing your teeth, and your risk of heart attack is doubled. If you also have high cholesterol, your risk is 9-fold.
While the Harvard study was conducted on men, my concern for you both would also be an increased risk of strokes.
Many people view the health of their mouth as an isolated aspect of their body, unrelated to major health risks, but this new study adds to the research that your dental health has an enormous impact on your body's health.