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Brush your teeth to protect your heart

1 December 2011

Researchers identify how bacteria can increase heart attack and stroke risk if they infect bloodstream

Watching your salt intake and giving up cigarettes are two ways to protect your heart, but here?s another everyday tip: brush your teeth.

Looking after your teeth and gums could help keep your heart healthy too - by helping to keep dangerous bugs out of your bloodstream.

A study that has been looking at why an infection of bacteria in the blood can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board?s annual Picture of Health 2011 publication.

Launched by Minister James Reilly TD on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

One of the findings relates to the link between mouth bacteria, infection of the bloodstream and heart attack risk.

?Studies show that you are five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or three times more likely to suffer a stroke within the first 72 hours after a bloodstream infection,? says HRB-funded researcher Dr Steve Kerrigan, a Principal Investigator with the Cardiovascular Infection Group at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Your mouth can harbour between 600 and 800 species of bacteria, most of which live there harmlessly, but poor oral hygiene can lead to bleeding of the gums and bugs can enter the bloodstream, explains Dr Kerrigan.

It?s thought that once there, some bacteria can make platelets in the blood become ?sticky? and put the person at higher risk of forming clots that cause a heart attack or stroke.

Working with the common mouth bacterium Streptococcus gordonii, Dr Kerrigan and his team identified a particular protein, PadA, which appears to be involved in making the platelets sticky. The finding will help to inform the development of new ways to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack from bacterial bloodstream infection.

?If we know exactly how the bacteria interact with the platelets then we reduce the need for antibiotics, we just stop the bacteria from interacting with the platelets,? says Dr Kerrigan.

The findings also highlight the need for good oral hygiene habits to be established and maintained from early in life, he adds.

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