You brush. You floss. You pop a mint. You chew sugar-free gum. You swish with mouthwash. But it’s still there. It makes you self-conscious. It holds you back from having conversations. It stops you from kissing your significant other.
It’s persistent bad breath. It’s not just annoying; it can be a sign of periodontal (gum disease) and a warning that you could be at risk of developing a blood clot – and a higher risk of stroke.
While it may seem to be an odd connection, researchers from Tampere University in Finland organized a study on patients who had experienced a thrombectomy; a procedure that removes blood clots using a catheter surgically implanted into an artery.
The participants in the study had also received emergency treatment for stroke-like attacks that caused paralysis on one side of the body.
All participants were also analyzed for the presences of oral bacteria known to cause gum disease, and their blood clots were also tested.
The researchers found that nearly 80 percent of the collected blood clots contained oral bacteria.
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So, how do bacteria commonly found in the mouth lead a blood clot? The answer is that bacteria found in the mouth can leach into the bloodstream through wounds caused by trauma or dental procedures such as extractions or root canals.
Once in the bloodstream, these bacteria cause the immune system defense cells in the blood vessels to wake up. The cells, known as endothelial cells, begin to produce inflammatory signals to alert the immune system of the invading bacteria. When this happens, plaque can develop in the artery.
When arteries become clogged with plaque, the chance of developing a blood clot or blockage increases. Other risk factors such as hypertension, smoking, or obesity increase the risk of developing a blood clot.
In addition to persistent bad breath, other signs of periodontal disease include:
The Finnish study confirms that there is a benefit to seeing the dentist regularly in addition to practicing good oral hygiene habits.
Seeing the dentist means that periodontal disease can be identified, monitored, and treated – which lowers your risk of blood clots.
We suggest seeing Dr. Korous at least twice a year for regular checkups and cleanings. If you do have gum disease, you may need to be seen more frequently for treatment.