Although gum disease has long been suspected of causing heart problems, scientists have long been puzzled as to how this happens.
Now researchers from the University of Bristol say that a self-defense mechanism of microbes in the mouth are to blame.
When the bacteria enters the blood stream through bleeding gums they deploy a protein that forces platelets to bind together and shield the bugs with clots.
- According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (also called heart disease).
And one study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
- The Comprehensive Center for Inflammatory Disorders at the School of Dentistry has found that flossing can protect against heart disease and strokes. They showed that people with unhealthy gums have more overall body inflammation, which is a predictor for heart disease, high cholesterol, strokes...and wrinkles.
- Another recent study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association studied 657 people without known heart disease. People who had higher blood levels of certain disease-causing bacteria in the mouth were found to be more likely to have atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries that can lead to strokes and overall ill health.
Study leader Professor Howard Jenkinson, said: '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.'
Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology's autumn meeting in Nottingham, Prof Jenkinson said oral bacteria can 'wreak havoc' if not kept in check by regular brushing and flossing.
'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,' he said.
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 bugs 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,' said Prof Jenkinson.
The team is using a new blood flow model developed by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland that mimics conditions in the human circulatory system.
The scientists are investigating how the platelet-activating behaviour of Streptococcus bacteria can be blocked.
'This could eventually lead to new treatments for cardiovascular disease, which is the biggest killer in the developed world,' said Prof Jenkinson.
If we want to look healthy and gorgeous into our old age, keeping our teeth in good shape is essential. Dentists actually say that flossing is more vital to the health of our teeth than brushing! It is a cheap and easy natural anti aging beauty product.