Perhaps more well established is the association between dental hygiene and heart disease.
In 2008, MNT reported on research from joint teams at the University of Bristol in the UK and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, who found that people with bleeding gums from poor dental hygiene could be increasing their risk of heart disease.
The researchers found that heart disease risk increased because – in people who have bleeding gums – bacteria from the mouth is able to enter the bloodstream and stick to platelets, which can then form blood clots, interrupting the flow of blood to the heart and triggering a heart attack.
“The mouth is probably the dirtiest place in the human body,” said Dr. Steve Kerrigan from the Royal College of Surgeons, explaining that there are up to 700 different types of bacteria co-existing in our mouths.
Prof. Howard Jenkinson, from the University of Bristol, added:
“Cardiovascular disease is currently the biggest killer in the western world. Oral bacteria such asStreptococcus gordonii and Streptococcus sanguinis are common infecting agents, and we now recognise that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases.”
The Bristol University researchers investigated how the bacteria interact with platelets by mimicking the pressure inside the blood vessels and the heart. Prof. Jenkinson’s team found that the bacteria use the platelets as a defense mechanism.
By clumping the platelets together, the bacteria are able to completely surround themselves. This platelet armor shields the bacteria from attack by immune cells and makes them less detectable to antibiotics.
Although some of the associations we have looked at in this spotlight feature are still under investigation, good dental hygiene remains important for lowering risk of a variety of conditions.
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) recommend that we should brush for 2 minutes, twice daily. The ADHA guidelines also stress the importance of flossing daily and rinsing with mouthwash. You can read the full recommendations on the ADHA website.