A link between bacteria found in plaque on teeth and an increased risk of heart attack has long been suspected.
Now scientists at bristol University have discovered that a common bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease can break out into the bloodstream helping the formation of blood clots. These in turn can cause heart attacks and strokes. Most of the Streptococcus bacteria stay in the mouth, but when someone has bleeding gums (gingivitis) they can get into the bloodstream.
The bacteria use a protein on their surface, called PadA, to force blood platelets to bind together to give themselves a protective shield.
Howard Jenkinson, professor of oral microbiology, said: “What we have done is whittled down to a single protein molecule on the surface of bacteria that can activate platelet formation. It is the first time that a mechanism from a single bacterium has been shown to activate platelets and make them spread. 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.
“Unfortunately, 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.”
People need to made aware that they need to maintain good oral hygiene by regular brushing and flossing to decrease the risk of heart problems. This research , it is hoped will also speed up the development of drugs to stop the formation of deadly clots.
Professor Jenkinson presented his research at the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn conference.