Gum Disease, Heart Attack, and Stroke: How Are They Related
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Table of Contents
- How Are Oral Health & Stroke Linked?
- Complications After a Stroke
- Tips for Good Oral Hygiene After a Stroke
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Prevent Gum Disease
Avoiding gum disease is a good idea for your oral health and heart health. You can prevent gum disease by:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time.
- Flossing your teeth at least once a day. Take care to slide the floss all the way down the tooth each time to clean under the gumline on each tooth.
- Eating a diet that is low in carbohydrates to avoid feeding the bacteria in your mouth.
- Avoiding snacking outside of meals.
- Using mouthwash periodically throughout the day.
- Not smoking or chewing tobacco.
- Visiting your dentist for cleanings at least once every 6 months.
If you already have early-stage gum disease (gingivitis), these tips can also help you reverse your condition and recover your oral health.
Oral Health Complications After a Stroke
People who have had a stroke often face many oral health challenges during their recovery. They usually experience some lasting sensory and motor functioning difficulties, including:
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of coordination, especially with fine motor movements
- Paralysis of the tongue and mouth
- Lack of sensation in the mouth
These problems can make it difficult to brush properly or even hold a toothbrush. They may also make it difficult to recognize that there are leftover food particles in the mouth that should be brushed away.
Some patients experience significant cognitive issues after a stroke. They may be easily confused or disoriented, making it difficult for them to maintain an oral hygiene routine or even to recognize objects like a toothbrush or their dentures.
Many people who have had a stroke also develop anxiety and depression, which can impact their motivation to care for their oral health. Even if they are physically able to brush and floss on their own, they may not be able to muster up the energy to do it.
Finally, many stroke patients are prescribed several medications during their recovery to help improve their functioning and reduce their chances of having another stroke. Xerostomia (or dry mouth) is a common side effect of these medications. This condition robs people of the protective effects of their saliva and significantly increases their risk of gum disease and cavities.
Tips for Good Oral Hygiene After a Stroke
If you or your loved one have had a stroke, you will need to adapt your oral hygiene routine in response. Here are some things you can do to make oral hygiene easier after a stroke.
- Create a structured environment for oral hygiene activities. Use the same sink in the same bathroom or kitchen each time you brush. Keep the toothbrush, floss, and other oral hygiene aids out on the counter to show what that space is for.
- Use an electric toothbrush instead of a manual one. Electric brushes are easier to hold, don't require as much motor coordination to use, and provide a superior clean that helps keep gum disease under control.
- Consider using floss picks or a water flossed instead of string floss. These tools may be easier for stroke patients to hold and maneuver.
- Consider supplementing good oral hygiene practices with a chlorhexidine rinse.
Acknowledge when help is needed. Nearly 84% of stroke patients require help from another person to complete their oral hygiene routine. It may be necessary to have another person take over some oral hygiene tasks to keep the stroke patient’s oral health in check.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dental problems cause a stroke?
How do stroke patients maintain good oral hygiene?
How long after a stroke can you get dental work done?
Doctors generally recommend that you wait six to 12 months after having a stroke to have any invasive dental work done. This is intended to minimize the risk that you will have another stroke.
However, stroke patients who are closely monitored by medical professionals may be able to safely receive treatment within just a few weeks of their stroke if needed.
If you or your loved one have had a stroke and need to get dental work done, talk to your doctor and dentist about your situation. Together, they may be able to come up with a solution that allows you to take care of your teeth sooner without risking your health.
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Gum disease and heart disease: The common thread. (February 2021). Harvard Health Publishing.
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