Bleeding gums linked to heart attack risk

People with poor dental hygiene are at a greater risk of suffering a heart attack, new research has found.

Bleeding gums let in around 700 types of bacteria, which go straight to the bloodstream. These are now known to be ‘independent factors’ in causing heart disease – no matter how fit and healthy the person is.

Professor Howard Jenkinson from the University of Bristol, working with the Royal College of Surgeons, made the discovery after examining how harmful bacteria interact with blood cells.

He will explain the findings in detail to members of the Society for General Microbiology in Trinity College, Dublin.

Professor Jenkinson said: ‘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 recognise that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases. In other words it doesn’t matter how fit, slim or healthy you are, you’re adding to your chances of getting heart disease by having bad teeth.’

The only treatment for heart disease is aggressive antibiotic therapy, but with the rise of drug-resistant bacteria time is running out for this option, he warned.

The findings suggest why antibiotics do not always work in the treatment of infectious heart disease and also highlight the need to develop new drugs to treat this disease.

‘We are currently in the process of identifying the exact site at which the bacteria stick to the platelets (blood cells which aid blood-clotting). Once this is identified we will design a new drug to prevent this interaction.’ Professor Jenkinson added.

Professor Jenkinson’s team are working with Dr Steve Kerrigan of Ireland’s Royal College to develop new and improved therapies.

Dr Kerrigan said: ‘Most of the studies that have looked at how bacteria interact with platelets were carried out under conditions that do not resemble those in the human circulatory system. We mimicked the pressure inside the blood vessels and in the heart. Using this technique we demonstrated that bacteria use different mechanisms to cause platelets to clump together, allowing them to completely encase the bacteria. This shields the bacteria from the cells of our immune systems, which would normally kill bacteria, and most importantly also protects them from antibiotics.’

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