Brushing your teeth twice a day not only keeps your smile looking bright, it also staves off heart disease, according to a new study.
Researchers from Bristol University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have discovered that poor oral health transports nasty mouth bacteria (also known as streptococcus gordonii) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream, increasing the risk of inflammation and blood clots.
Streptococcus gordonii normally contributes to plaque forming on teeth and if it loiters in the mouth for too long and reaches the bloodstream, the bacteria mimics the protein in the body that controls the blood clotting process.
This causes the blood to clot and significantly increases the risk of endocarditis (a dangerous heart infection).
This potentially fatal heart condition is caused when blood clots grow on the heart valves and restricts the blood flow to the heart.
The scientists from the study presented their findings at the Society for General Microbiology’s conference and revealed plans to develop new drugs that prevent blood clots and treat infective endocarditis.
"Our team has now identified the critical components of the S. gordonii molecule that mimics fibrinogen, so we are getting closer to being able to design new compounds to inhibit it. This would prevent the stimulation of unwanted blood clots," Dr Steve Kerrigan from the RCSI said in a statement.
Lead researcher Dr Helen Petersen, said: "In the development of infective endocarditis, a crucial step is the bacteria sticking to the heart valve and then activating platelets to form a clot.
“We are now looking at the mechanism behind this sequence of events in the hope that we can develop new drugs which are needed to prevent blood clots and also infective endocarditis.”
Dr Petersen also said that although the condition can be treated with strong antibiotics, it is becoming increasingly difficult because the bacteria (which grows inside the blood clot) is resistant to antibiotic treatment.
"About 30% of people with infective endocarditis die and most will require surgery for replacement of the infected heart valve with a metal or animal valve.”
June Davison, senior cardiac nurse from the British Heart Foundation said in a statement: “It’s already well established poor oral hygiene can increase the risk of endocarditis. The condition is very rare but it’s also very serious - the lining of the heart becomes infected which can damage your heart’s valves.”
“Good oral hygiene can help to protect you against endocarditis so it’s really important to clean your teeth everyday and visit your dentist regularly.”