A link between gum disease and heart disease has been established for some time, though until now it has been unclear what causes the connection.
Health experts now believe that it is bacteria entering the bloodstream through sore gums and depositing a clot–forming protein, which can increase the risk of heart attacks.
Scientists from the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland suggest it is the Streptococcus bacterium that is causing the problem.
Streptococcus is the bacteria responsible for causing gum disease and tooth plaque. Research shows that once it enters the bloodstream, it creates a protein known as PadA, which causes the platelets in the blood to stick together and clot. The platelets encase the bacteria, protecting it from both the immune system and antibiotics that might be used to try and treat the infection.
Professor Howard Jenkinson, who led the research, said: “Unfortunately, as well as helping out the bacteria, platelet clumping can cause small blood clots, growth on the heart valves, or inflammation of blood vessels that can block the blood supply to the heart and brain.”
The British Dental Health Foundation has long reported on the systemic links between oral health and general health, including heart disease; and previous studies have suggested that Preventella Intermedia and Tannerella Forsynthesis bacterium are also likely to increase the risk of heart attacks.
Chief Executive of the Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “Although this research still needs further development, the research goes a long way in helping us to understand the link between gum and heart disease.
“Latest studies show that 95% of people will suffer some form of gum disease during their life, yet gum disease is preventable. By taking care of their teeth and gums thoroughly, people can protect themselves against oral health problems and more serious risks such as heart disease.”
To minimise the risks of gum disease, the Foundation recommends maintaining good oral hygiene. Brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, cleaning in between teeth with interdental brushes or floss, cutting down how often sugary foods and drinks appear in the diet and visiting a dentist regularly are all vital parts of a good oral health routine.
For further information or advice on a range of dental topics, contact the National Dental Helpline on 0845 063 1188. The Helpline is staffed by qualified dental experts and is available Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm. More information about dental health is available at www.dentalhealth.org.
For further information please contact the Foundation’s Press Office on [email protected] or 01788 539 792.
The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 30–year track record of providing public information and influencing government policy. It maintains a free consumer advice service, an impartial and objective product accreditation scheme, publishes and distributes a wide range of literature for the profession and consumers, and runs National Smile Month each May, to promote greater awareness of the benefits of better oral health.
The study was conducted by the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. It will be presented to the Society for General Microbiology.
The Dental Helpline, which offers free impartial advice to consumers, can be contacted on 0845 063 1188 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Alternatively, they can be contacted by email on [email protected]
A series of ‘Tell Me About…’ leaflets covering topics such as caring for my teeth, finding a dentist and diet are also available.
National Smile Month is supported by three giants of oral health–care Oral–B, Wrigley’s Orbit Complete and Listerine.
The Foundation’s website can be found at www.dentalhealth.org