Brushing and Flossing Lowers Heart Disease Risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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A scientist from the University of Bristol says brushing and flossing teeth is just as important for lowering risk of heart attack as other lifestyle interventions. Professor Howard Jenkinson explains there are bacteria in the mouth that can enter the bloodstream and form clots, causing heart attack.

How Poor Oral Hygiene Causes Heart Attack

The same bacteria that cause mouth and gum disease, Streptococcus, also release a protein in the bloodstream that contains a clot promoting protein. Normally, the bacteria are confined to the mouth, inside biofilms. If the bacteria enter the blood stream from gum disease, heart attack risk increases.

Dr. Jenkinson says, “Poor dental hygiene can lead to bleeding gums, providing bacteria with an escape route into the bloodstream, where they can initiate blood clots leading to heart disease.”

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PadA, a surface protein on the bacteria forces platelet to clot. Platelets are blood cells targeted by medications to prevent heart disease such as aspirin and Plavix.

When the platelets clump together they completely encase the bacteria. This provides a protective cover not only from the immune system, but also from antibiotics that might be used to treat infection," says Dr. Jenkinson. "Unfortunately, as well as helping out the bacteria, platelet clumping can cause small blood clots, growths on the heart valves (endocarditis), or inflammation of blood vessels that can block the blood supply to the heart and brain."

Researchers are working on finding a way to target the PadA protein in hopes of finding ways to prevent blood clots. A new model that mimics human circulation has been developed by Dr Steve Kerrigan at the RCSI, School of Pharmacy, Dublin. This could eventually lead to new treatments for cardiovascular disease which is the biggest killer in the developed world," said Professor Jenkinson.

The public health message is important. Jenkinson says people need to not only keep an eye on cholesterol, exercise regularly and control blood pressure in check – dental hygiene is also important for heart attack and stroke prevention.

Teeth brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing clot forming bacteria from entering the bloodstream. The findings were presented at the Society for General Microbiology's autumn meeting in Nottingham.

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