Bacteria lurking in dental plaque and on diseased gums could trigger a heart attack, suggests a new study in rabbits. The organisms found in the plaque have been shown to promote clumping of platelets, one of the first steps in clot formation that could cause a heart attack. The bacteria also cause abnormalities in heart function, according to a report presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Mark Herzberg from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Maurice Meyer looked at two types of bacteria found in diseased gums, Streptococcus sanguis (S. sanguis) and Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis). Both bacteria can easily cross diseased gums to enter the bloodstream. Severe periodontitis is the equivalent of about nine square inches of chronic wound around the teeth. It offers considerable opportunity over time for these bacteria to enter the blood.
In the new study, the bacteria were infused directly into the bloodstream of rabbits, and S. sanguis caused platelet clotting, faster heart and breathing rates, as well as abnormal changes in electrocardiograms up to 30 minutes later. The bacteria appear to have this effect because they carry a surface protein called platelet aggregation association protein (PAAP). It's not yet clear if a similar response would occur in humans, though the researchers note that 60% of S. sanguis strains found in the human mouth contain PAAP.
COMMENT: This information highlights the importance of following an effective program to remove plaque and keep your gums healthy. I outlined one in newsletter #34. I felt that this article was especially appropriate for me as I just had finished my visit to have my teeth cleaned. I go every three months to have the plaque scrapped off. I was particularly disappointed that my flossing, brushing, water-pik and baking soda efforts still were not completely effective at eliminating the plaque. My hygienist told me my exam was better than average, but I could still hear her scrape away the plaque on the lower front teeth. My new strategy will be to dip my toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide and brush the lower teeth twice a day. This strategy will only work if you start after your teeth are clean however. It can not remove plaque. I would also be cautious on using the smallest amount of peroxide as larger amounts will clearly cause some problems. My next cleaning is in three months and I will report the effectiveness of this strategy.