What is the link between mouth bacteria and blood clots that causes strokes and heart attacks?
Bacteria and germs from the mouth can trigger blood clots. Research has shown that microorganisms escaping from the mouth employ a survival trick that can trigger deadly blood clots.
The link between bacteria that cause dental plaque and heart disease and strokes is well known. But scientists have now discovered just why it is that the microbes pose a far bigger risk than receding gums.
Once let loose in the bloodstream the bacteria deploy a protein that forces platelets (the cells which cause our blood to clot) to bind together and shield the bugs with clots.
When the platelets clump together they completely encase the bacteria providing a protective cover not only from the immune system but also from antibiotics that might be used to treat the infection.
As well as helping out the bacteria, platelet clumping can cause small blood clots, growths on the heart valves, or inflammation of blood vessels that can block the blood supply to the heart and brain.
Oral bacteria can wreak havoc in the body if not kept in check by regular brushing and flossing as 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.
The Streptococcus bacteria normally live in confined communities in the mouth called biofilms. It is these that are responsible for dental plaque and gum disease.
The microbes become far more potentially harmful once they break free of the mouth and enter the blood circulation.
People need to be aware that as well as keeping a check on their diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and fitness levels, they also need to maintain good dental hygiene to minimise their risk of heart problems.
The scientists are now investigating how the platelet-activating behaviour of Streptococcus bacteria can be blocked as this could eventually lead to new treatments for cardiovascular disease, which is the biggest killer in the developed world.