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Plaque bug makes 'platelet armour'

Wednesday September 8th 2010

The same bacteria that causes dental plaque can also cause blood clots, as part of a dangerous defence system that makes it immune to antibiotics, research has shown.

Scientists have long known of a link between the microbes responsible for plaque and bleeding gums, and conditions such as heart disease and strokes, but a new study has revealed how it works.

Usually, Streptococcus bacteria live in confined oral communities called biofilms, which create plaque and gum disease.

When the bug leaves the mouth and gets into the bloodstream, it releases a protein that makes platelets clump together into a protective cover, which stops the body's immune system and antibiotics from destroying it.

Study leader Professor Howard Jenkinson, from the University of Bristol, said: "Unfortunately, as well as helping out the bacteria, platelet clumping can cause small blood clots, growths on the heart valves, or inflammation of blood vessels that can block the blood supply to the heart and brain."

He presented the findings at the Society for General Microbiology's autumn meeting in Nottingham, where he urged people to brush and floss regularly.

"People need to be aware that as well as keeping a check on their diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and fitness levels, they also need to maintain good dental hygiene to minimise their risk of heart problems," he said.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

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