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News / March 31, 2008

Poor oral hygiene can increase risk of heart disease

by Guy Hiscott

People with a poor oral hygiene routine are at an increased risk of heart disease, according to research presented at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s (RCSI) annual Research Day.

The study, funded by the Health Research Board (HRB), states that bleeding gums allow oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream the bacteria stick to platelets (blood clotting cells) and clump together within blood vessels. This can prevent the blood flow back to the heart and heightens the risk of heart attack.

‘The mouth is probably the dirtiest place in the human body, with over 500 different species of bacteria. We have recently identified two receptors (proteins) on oral bacteria that we believe play a major role in recognising and sticking to platelets. The results of the study suggest that we have identified some of the mechanisms oral bacteria use to inappropriately clot or clump platelets in the blood vessels,’ said lead researcher Dr Steve Kerrigan from the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Molecular Cellular Therapeutics at RCSI.

Dr Kerrigan added that brushing and flossing regularly will reduce this risk factor for heart disease.