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Researchers discover a protein that allows oral bacteria to damage the heart
Updated: 6/29/2011 5:00:00 PM

Screening dental patients for a specific protein may help dentists identify those who are at risk for heart complications caused by oral bacteria Many people underestimate the dangers of leaving cavities or tooth decay untreated. As a recent study published in the journal Infection and Immunity pointed out, the bacteria called Streptococcus mutans that have been associated with the formation of dental caries can also affect an individual's heart health.

The researchers explained that S. mutans can enter the bloodstream when a person's gums bleed after having a dental procedure or during cleaning - if the gums are unhealthy. From here, the bacteria can invade one's heart tissue and colonize in this area.

However, the scientists observed that in order to do this, S. mutans require a collagen-binding protein called CNM.

The study's results showed that bacteria lacking CNM were unable to invade heart cells. This finding led the researchers to believe that they may be able to test high-risk patients for the protein and treat them accordingly.

"When patients with cardiac problems go to the dentist, perhaps those patients will be screened to see if they carry the protein. If they do, the dentist might treat them more aggressively with preventive antibiotics, for example," said the study's lead author Jacqueline Abranches.

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