Every 45 seconds, someone has a stroke in the United States. The third largest cause of death in this country, strokes affect over 700,000 people each year with over 500,000 of these coming without warning and devastating consequences. Precipitated by inflammatory factors that create a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels that lead to the brain and the formation of clots, a major correlation has been established between periodontal (gum) disease, stroke and all cerebrovascular diseases.

As one of the principal sources of chronic low-grade inflammation in the body, gum disease can cause the infiltration of oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream which trigger the liver to release C-reactive proteins (CRP) that in turn promote the unhealthy formation of plaques in blood vessels leading to blood clots. When blood vessels burst or are plugged by clots, they cannot carry blood to the brain, resulting in an ischemic stroke (caused by clotting) or a hemorrhagic stroke (caused by ruptured vessels).

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people who have gum disease are more likely to have a stroke and/or heart attack with some studies showing more than a seven times greater risk for people with advanced gum disease. Moise Desvarieux, MD, PhD, the lead author of a recent study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, studied 657 people without known heart disease. He and his co-authors found that people who had higher blood levels of certain disease-causing bacteria in the mouth were more likely to have atherosclerosis, also called "hardening of the arteries," in the carotid artery in the neck leading to stroke in the brain. This develops when deposits of fats and other substances (plaques) in your blood begin to stick to the sides of your arteries narrowing them and clogging them like a plugged-up drain.

An incident of stroke often comes suddenly and without warning. Symptoms include dizziness, loss of orientation, speech trouble, headache, paralysis or numbness on one side of the body. Be sure to seek immediate emergency care if you notice these symptoms in anyone. A stroke may cause permanent damage to the brain or at worst, death.

With the month May declared as Stroke Awareness Month, it is important to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke, the important link to oral health and the essential need for prevention. We can create an oral environment that delivers freedom in health. In honor of those who have loved ones that have suffered from a stroke, let's choose a better path for ourselves and protect an area that is on the front line of our total health and has easy access to our bloodstream - our mouths and gums. Eat well, exercise daily and for your brain's sake, take care of your smile seriously!

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to rejuvenationdentistry.com.