Ignoring oral health could lead to fatal blood clotting

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Numerous research studies have found a link between poor oral health and serious health conditions, including heart disease; however, the reason why not brushing the teeth causes heart attacks has been something of a mystery until now.

New research by a scientist at Bristol University has found that bacteria in the mouth can escape into the bloodstream and stimulate the formation of blood clots, which may block the flow of blood around the body and cause a heart attack. The clots may also cause strokes.

Every year, around 200,000 people die because of heart attacks and strokes and many people are unaware of the connection between poor standards of oral health and the development of potentially life-threatening medical conditions.

Research into the relationship between oral health conditions and heart attacks has focused on the Streptococcus bacteria, which are usually only found in the mouth. If a person has bleeding gums or gum disease, the bacteria can escape into the bloodstream; once in the blood, they use a protein, known as PadA, which is found on their surface, to form a blood clot. The clots are formed to help protect the bacteria.

Howard Jenkinson, professor of microbiology, said that the recent study had found that the proteins on the surfaces of the Streptococcus bacteria cause a protective covering of platelets to clump together to form a shield; this protects the bacteria from the body’s immune system and medication, such as antibiotics. The platelets can also clump together to form blood clots; in certain areas, such as in the heart valves and the blood vessels, this can be very dangerous and potentially life-threatening. When the blood vessels become blocked or inflamed, this can prevent blood from travelling around the body, meaning that oxygen cannot reach the brain.

Professor Jenkinson said the research should be used to raise awareness amongst the general public; most people are unaware of the potential dangers of ignoring oral health. The research will also be used to develop suitable medications to prevent the formation of potentially lethal blood clots.

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