“We also found that those who went to the dentist regularly – their risk of developing atrial fibrillation was almost 20% lower,” said Dr. Souvik Sen, researcher and Chair of Neurology at Palmetto Health USC.
Strokes are the third leading cause of death in South Carolina, according to DHEC. The state is considered part of the Stroke Belt, a band of 11 southeastern states that exhibit higher rates of stroke mortalities. SC is the buckle of the stroke belt, along with NC and GA, and the buckle displays higher stroke mortality than other states in the country.
The study tracked patients’ dental care over nearly two decades and each patient was evaluated for mild, moderate, or severe gum disease. Sen says the preliminary findings linking dental health to risk of stroke are exciting because it shows that strokes may be preventable.
“Good oral health leads to general overall better health,” Sen said. “I think the 2 are very strongly tied to each other. Obviously, stroke is just one of them, but there’s other factors linked with oral health that would probably benefit as well.”
Dentists and hygienists say gum disease is preventable and treatable.
“That’s where the 6-month hygiene appointments come into play so we can monitor and stay on top of it,” said Crystal Scruggs, a registered dental hygienist at Southern Shores Dental. “And then, show them where they need to concentrate a little more to get that gum tissue healthier.”
Scruggs says the best way to maintain oral hygiene is to have a good routine at home of brushing twice a day and flossing once per day. Dentists say coming for dental checkups every six months is crucial for diagnosing gum disease and other issues.
“It’s a painless disease that doesn’t have symptoms usually. The maintenance, again, is the most important part because you really don’t know you have it until you have it – until you come in and it’s actually diagnosed,” said Dr. Caroline Hartley, a dentist at Southern Shores Dental.
Sen says the study is in clinical trials and should wrap up by the end of this year. He says he expects to have the results of the study ready by early 2022.