At the recent Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference, held in Dublin, Ireland, scientists revealed their work on the correlation between oral bacteria and a life-threatening condition, known as endocarditis. The bacteria, scientifically named Streptococcus gordonii, are commonly found in the mouth and contribute to the development of plaque. Brushing and flossing regularly, as well as visiting your dentist twice a year can help to maintain a healthy amount of bacteria, lowering the risk of developing a more serious condition. It’s when oral hygiene is neglected and left unchecked that real issues can arise, as reported in the Medical News Today article, “Blood Clots May Be Triggered By Dental Plaque Bacteria.”
If the bacteria, S. gordonii, is able to enter the blood stream, say through bleeding gums, they have the ability to mask themselves as human proteins, causing a number of problems. Teams of researchers from the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, have discovered that once the bacteria produces the molecule that mimics the human protein fibrinogen, platelets are activated, causing them to clump together inside blood vessels. The blood clots then surround the bacteria, protecting it from the immune system and antibiotics, making it very difficult to treat infection. Furthermore, the clumping can cause endocarditis, or growths on the heart valves, which can ultimately block the blood supply to the brain or heart.
Dr. Helen Petersen, presenter of the study, said that their research is leading to a better understanding of the relationship between bacteria and platelets, and that hopefully new treatments can be developed for infective endocarditis. Currently, the condition is only treated with strong antibiotics or surgery, with a fatality rate of about 30%. By identifying the molecule created by the S. gordonii bacteria, the team is hopeful that they will be able to design new compounds that could inhibit it. Researchers are also investigating other dental plaque bacteria to determine if they have similar properties which contribute to other life-threatening conditions. Dr. Petersen claims that their ongoing study has shown one clear and crucial piece of knowledge; that keeping your mouth healthy through practicing good oral hygiene helps keep bacteria in check, which absolutely contributes to overall well-being.