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Long-term research links oral health and stroke risk

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Gum disease aligns with increased atrial fibrillation in a cohort study

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Prisma Health neurologists are part of a research team who recently published results of a study of the potential links between oral health and stroke risk. In the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) a group of 9,666 patients were followed for nearly two decades to study the relationships between gum disease (referred to as periodontal disease) severity, dental care and atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat condition that increases the risk for stroke.

“There is strong evidence that preventive care and timely treatment for our teeth and gums are essential to our overall health,” said Souvik Sen, MD, chair and professor of Prisma Health Neurology and University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia, Department of Neurology. 

Of the study group, those who received recommended dental care on a regular schedule had a significantly lower risk of atrial fibrillation than those patients who received little or no dental care. This may explain why gum disease is often associated with a higher stroke risk.

The research participants were evaluated for mild, moderate and severe gum disease and classified as either regular or occasional users of dental care. These study participants, who had no history of atrial fibrillation, were followed for 17 years, tracking their frequency of dental care and incidence of atrial fibrillation over the study period.

“This study gives us a deeper understanding of a significant factor contributing to stroke risk over a person’s lifetime,” said Dr. Sen, a lead researcher in the study. “The study is also an important collaboration among researchers from multiple institutions who made such a large and long-term study possible.” 

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. In addition to Dr. Sen, the research team included Kolby Redd, PhD, Dept. of Neurology, University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia; Tushar Trivedi, MD, Dept. of Neurology, University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia; Kevin Moss, Dept. of Periodontology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Alvaro Alonso, MD, Dept. of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta; Elsayed Z. Soliman, Dept. of Epidemiology and Internal Medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston Salem; Jared W. Magnani, MD, Dept. of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh; Lin Y. Chen, MD, Dept. of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Rebecca F. Gottesman, MD, Dept. of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; Wayne Rosamond, PhD, Dept. of Epidemiology, Gilling’s School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; James Beck, PhD, Dept. of Periodontology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Stephen Offenbacher, DDS, Dept. of Periodontology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

About Prisma Health

Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. With nearly 30,000 team members, 18 hospitals, 2,947 beds and more than 300 physician practice sites, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million unique patients annually. Its goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care, as well as conducting clinical research and training the next generation of medical professionals. For more information, visit PrismaHealth.org.

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