We were recently asked the question, “Do bad teeth cause diabetes and strokes?” This is a great question, but it’s really two questions: 1) do bad teeth cause diabetes, and 2) do bad teeth cause strokes? Let’s address these questions one at a time.
Do bad teeth cause diabetes?
The short answer is “no.” Having bad teeth does not cause diabetes. However, some of the same lifestyle factors which lead to type 2 diabetes (such as poor diet and stress) can also contribute to poor dental hygiene, gum disease, and bad teeth.
Once you have diabetes, however, you’re at much higher risk for gum disease. And from there it’s a vicious cycle. High blood sugar increases the likelihood of infections, including infections in your mouth. The altered chemistry of your saliva is the perfect home for the bacteria which cause gum disease and tooth decay. Gum disease and other oral infections can raise your blood sugar…and the cycle goes on.
People with diabetes are also likely to develop oral yeast infections (called thrush) and dry mouth, which can cause mouth sores. And because you’re diabetic, these sores are more likely to become infected—which in turn can raise your blood sugar.
So, no. Bad teeth don’t cause diabetes, although diabetes can cause bad teeth. But if you already have diabetes, bad teeth can make it worse and hurry the progression from one stage to another.
Do bad teeth cause strokes?
Bad teeth and strokes, however, are another matter. While the issue isn’t cut-and-dried, there’s mounting evidence that bad teeth can raise your risk for strokes and heart attacks dramatically. For a more in-depth discussion of the matter, see the article To Avoid Stroke, Take Care of Your Teeth. But in a nutshell, here’s what the science says:
One of the symptoms of gum disease is bleeding gums. When you have gum disease, oral bacteria can enter your blood stream. Once there, they can migrate to any part of your body—including your heart and your brain. These bacteria can cause clots—which result in ischemic strokes—and some strains of bacteria are associated with hemorrhagic stroke, the result of bleeding in the brain.
Having your teeth cleaned by your dentist even occasionally lowers your risk of stroke significantly, however, and having it done yearly can reduce your risk by about 13%. Regular cleaning can also lower your risk of heart attack by an incredible 24%, according to some studies.
The bottom line? Although the causes of strokes are many and varied and less than perfectly understood, gum disease appears to be a major risk factor. Regular professional teeth cleaning is essential, and even more so for those with diabetes who are more prone to gum disease in the first place.