Oral bacteria behind bad breath could boost your risk of heart disease

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From visible plaque to tooth decay, Britons are no strangers to dental problems. Worryingly, research continues to suggest that the state of your oral health could translate to other serious health problems. A new study found that there might be a link between bacteria responsible for bad breath and heart disease.

Whether you’re afraid of dentists or don’t invest too much time in your oral hygiene, poor oral health doesn’t only affect your smile.

A new study suggests that infection with a bacterium that causes gum disease and bad breath could increase your risk of heart disease. 

The research, published in the journal eLife, proposed another potential risk factor that physicians should consider to identify individuals at risk of heart disease. 

The culprit in question is Fusobacterium nucleatum, which describes a common oral bacterium that can cause different infections.

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Lead author Flavia Hodel said: “Although enormous progress has been made in understanding how coronary heart disease develops, our understanding of how infections, inflammation, and genetic risk factors contribute is still incomplete.

“We wanted to help fill some of the gaps in our understanding of coronary heart disease by taking a more comprehensive look at the role of infections.” 

Previous research suggested that a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors all contribute to heart disease, which is responsible for about one-third of all deaths worldwide. 

A build-up of plaques in the arteries that supply your heart with blood triggers coronary heart disease – the most common type out there.

Worryingly, certain infections have been linked to an increased risk of plaque build-up. 

Hodel and colleagues analysed genetic information, health data, and blood samples from 3,459 participants, who participated in the CoLaus|PsyCoLaus Study – a Swiss population-based cohort. 

Out of the cohort, around six percent experienced a heart attack or another harmful cardiovascular event during the 12-year follow-up period. 

The research team tested participants’ blood samples for the presence of antibodies against 15 different viruses, six bacteria, and one parasite. 

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Once the data was adjusted for known cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers found that antibodies against Fusobacterium nucleatum – a sign of previous or current infection by the bacterium – were linked to a slightly higher risk of heart disease. 

Hodel said: “Fusobacterium nucleatum might contribute to cardiovascular risk through increased systemic inflammation due to bacterial presence in the mouth, or through direct colonisation of the arterial walls or plaque lining the arterial walls.”

If future studies establish a firm link between this bacterium and heart disease, it may lead to new approaches in identifying those at risk or even preventing cardiovascular events, according to the research team.

Senior author Jacques Fellay added: “Our study adds to growing evidence that inflammation triggered by infections may contribute to the development of coronary heart disease and increase the risk of a heart attack.

“Our results may lead to new ways of identifying high-risk individuals or lay the groundwork for studies of preventive interventions that treat Fusobacterium nucleatum infections to protect the heart.”

Furthermore, this isn’t the first study to warn that oral health has implications outside of the mouth.

The findings presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Conference in Dallas suggested that adults genetically prone to oral health problems may be more likely to show signs of declining brain well-being than those with healthy teeth and gums.

Other research has shown that gum disease, missing teeth, as well as poor brushing habits, increase the risk of a stroke.

The NHS recommends having a dental check-up every six months, with some patients needing to see dentist more often.

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