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Did you know that oral health can be linked to brain health? Gum disease can be an indicator for stroke, and there are even associations between certain types of strokes and the presence of oral bacteria.

Streptococcus mutans, or strep mutans for short, is present in about 10 percent of the population and about one-third of stroke victims. Some scientists believe the reason for this strong correlation is that strep mutans bacteria may attach themselves to red blood cells and weaken veins in the brains of stroke victims.

Prolonged dental decay can raise your risk of stroke through the same process. When teeth decay, bacteria make their way to the nerve and blood supply in the pulp of the tooth, and from there they can travel through the bloodstream to the brain. Once they’ve reached the brain, the bacteria can contribute to cerebral hemorrhages, which cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

Prevention is the best medicine, but early detection of gum disease and tooth decay is the next best thing. Minimize your risk of stroke by visiting your dentist regularly, eating a healthy diet and practicing good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing; this is especially important if you have a family history of stroke. If you have concerns regarding your stroke risk, be sure to consult your medical doctor.