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News / September 7, 2010

Scientists find key to

by Guy Hiscott

Health experts in Ireland and the UK may have found a reason why gum disease is linked to the risk of heart disease.

The experts suggest it is the Streptococcus bacteria – the cause of tooth plaque and gum disease – that may be to blame.

And the research team from University of Bristol –working in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, found that bacteria from the mouth can leave the mouth, enter the bloodstream, where they release a protein, called PadA, that causes platelets in the bloodstream to join around them in a protective clot which increases the risk of heart attack.

Lead author, Professor Howard Jenkinson, says: ‘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.’

The bacteria are usually confined to ‘biofilm’ communities in the mouth, which cause gum disease and plaque.