Can Failing To Attack Dental Plaque Increase Risk of Heart Damage?

Plaque is the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on teeth. It makes teeth "feel fuzzy" to the tongue and is most noticeable when teeth are not brushed.
 
What Causes Plaque and Why Is It Harmful?
 
Plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as milk, soft drinks, raisins, cakes, or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Plaque can also develop on the tooth roots under the gum and cause breakdown of the bone supporting the tooth.
 
How Can Plaque Formation Be Prevented?
 
To prevent plaque buildup, brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft, rounded-tip bristled toothbrush. Pay particular attention to the space where the gums and teeth meet. Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
Floss between teeth at least once a day to remove food particles and bacteria.
See your dentist or oral hygienist every 6 months for a check-up and teeth cleaning.
Ask your dentist if a dental sealant is appropriate for you. Dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating that are painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth to protect them from cavities and decay.
 
Will neglecting to brush your teeth damage more than just your smile? Can failing to attack dental plaque increase your risk of heart damage? 
 
The answer to both questions may be yes if you are male and black, an Indiana University School of Dentistry study published in the current issue of the Journal of Dental Research reports. 
 
The researchers, led by Michael Kowolik, B.D.S., Ph.D., professor of periodontics and associate dean for graduate education at the IU School of Dentistry on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, studied 128 black and white men and women and found that dental plaque accumulation did not result in a change in total white blood count, a known risk factor for adverse cardiac events. However, in black males the researchers noted a significant increase in the activity of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell and an essential part of the immune system. 
 
Unlike most other studies that attempt to understand the link between oral inflammatory disease and heart disease risk, these study participants did not have periodontal disease. They were healthy individuals who by the study design were asked to neglect oral hygiene. 
 
"We are talking about healthy people who simply neglect oral hygiene and if they were male and black, we found a response from their white blood cells, or neutrophils, that might be a cause for concern," said Dr. Kowolik. 
 
"If you get a bacterial infection anywhere in the body, billions of neutrophils come flooding out of your bone marrow to defend against the intruder. Our observation that with poor dental hygiene white blood cell activity increased in black men but not black women or whites of either sex suggests both gender and racial differences in the inflammatory response to dental plaque. This finding could help us identify individuals at greater risk for infections anywhere in the body including those affecting the heart," he said. 
 
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