We all know that the billions of bacteria that live in our mouths affect the health of our teeth and gums. But we’re still learning about how this bacteria is released into the bloodstream, and how much damage it can cause in our heart and blood vessels.
Multiple studies are under way that explore how harmful bacteria moving from the mouth into the bloodstream can be especially problematic for people with periodontitis (erosion of the tissue and bone that support the teeth). Supporting evidence for this theory has come from research that has found several species of periodontitis bacteria in the plaque that builds up in arteries and in the heart.
According to a recent New Zealand study, oral bacteria in the bloodstream may also cause the body to attack itself with white blood cells. The germ-fighting white blood cells stick to the bacteria in the arteries and cause a further build-up of plaque (atherosclerosis).
Yet another study that is currently being funded by The Heart and Stroke Foundation is examining how bacteria from the mouth activate platelets in the bloodstream and can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Researchers suspect that platelets release chemicals to attract other cells, which may promote blood clots and the narrowing of blood vessels. The research hopes to lead to the development of drugs that will prevent the bacteria from activating the plaque.
Brushing, flossing and making regular visits to your dentist are the best steps to take in controlling bacteria and gum disease. It’s also important to make sure your dentist knows your complete medical history, including a list of any prescription medications you’re taking. If you have an existing heart condition, check with your doctor to find out if there are any special steps you should take before any dental work and encourage your dentist to consult your doctor if necessary.