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New Study Shows Protecting Your Heart May Begin in Your Mouth

A number of recent studies have linked poor dental hygiene to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, claiming more than 17 million people a year.

Most people know that obesity, high cholesterol, and smoking can all increase your risk of developing heart disease. But based on recent research associating gum disease with heart disease, we may need to add poor dental hygiene to the list.

This may come as no surprise to some people. After all, the mouth is one of the dirtiest places in the human body, where over 700 different kinds of bacteria flourish.

A recent study from the University of Bristol in Britain attempted to uncover the hidden link between oral hygiene and heart disease. Researchers mimicked the pressure inside blood vessels to test what happens when bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream.

The simulation showed that when bacteria enter the bloodstream through bleeding gums, blood platelets clump around and encase them. According to Howard Jenkins at the University of Bristol, this clumping acts as a protective barrier and could be the reason why antibiotics sometimes don't work in treating infectious disease.

Separate research from the University of Otago Dunedin in New Zealand found that bacteria in the mouth may also cause atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease brought on by a buildup of fats, cholesterol, cellular waste, calcium and other substances in blood vessels and arteries. This build up is called plaque and can lead to heart attack or stroke.

According to the study results, published in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of Periodontology, when bacteria in the mouth get into the blood stream they release something called stress proteins. These foreign stress proteins trigger the immune system to launch an attack which can result in a buildup of white blood cells in artery tissues and lead to atherosclerosis.

There are many ways to keep your heart healthy. Diet and exercise are extremely important as well as coping with stress, not smoking, and getting regular blood pressure screenings. According to this research, brushing and flossing your teeth may be another simple way to help prevent heart disease.
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