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Posted: September 23, 2008

Brush Your Teeth to Save Your Heart

Taking good care of your teeth and guarding against bleeding gums is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease, according to British researchers, who say poor dental hygiene allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream and could trigger a heart attack.

The research warning provides a sobering look at the importance of a healthy mouth in maintaining a healthy heart. The microbiologist team that conducted the study said up to 700 different types of bacteria exist in the human mouth – great breeding ground for infection to seep into the bloodstream and attach to platelets, leading to blood clots that block the supply of blood to the heart and ultimately result in a heart attack.

"The mouth is probably the dirtiest place in the human body," said Dr. Steve Kerrigan from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Kerrigan was a member of the team of microbiologists from the University of Bristol in the UK and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, who presented their findings at the meeting of the Society for General Microbiology, at Trinity College in Dublin. Kerrigan posed this scenario:

"If you have an open blood vessel from bleeding gums, bacteria will gain entry to your bloodstream. When bacteria get into the bloodstream, they encounter tiny fragments called platelets that clot blood when you get a cut. By sticking to the platelets, bacteria cause them to clot inside the blood vessel, partially blocking it. This prevents the blood flow back to the heart, and we run the risk of suffering a heart attack."

In the past, clotting was easy to treat with aggressive antibiotic therapy, but Kerrigan pointed out that this option is rapidly disappearing because bacteria are evolving into stronger organisms able to resist many types of anti-microbial drugs.

A news release, issued in conjunction with the British team’s presentation, quoted team member Professor Howard Jenkinson, from the University of Bristol, with this warning:

"Cardiovascular disease is currently the biggest killer in the western world. Oral bacteria such as Streptococcus gordonii and Streptococcus sanguinis are common infecting agents, and we now recognize that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases."

In essence, the researchers agreed, poor dental hygiene can negate other heart-healthy factors, such as being fit, slim and eating healthily, and lull a person into thinking they are doing all they need to avoid heart disease.

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