We know that a heart attack or stroke is the climactic event following a slow degenerative process called atherosclerosis. In this process, the arteries scar, harden, and clog with fatty deposits. Scientists have long believed that the source of the artery-clogging fat was the food that we ate. But research hasn’t confirmed that eating a high-fat diet always leads to artery-clogging fat.

Now researchers have an explanation for why that may be the case. The fat in arteries might be from oral bacteria and not from foods. This could be a major part of the link between gum disease and heart disease.

A Distinctive Kind of Fat

Researchers are coming to this belief because they recently tested fat taken from arterial clogs and found that it was linked to a certain kind of oral bacteria. Fats are large organic molecules called triglycerides because of their structure: three organic chains (called fatty acids) linked together at their ends.

Mammals have certain tendencies in making these fats. In general, they don’t make branching fatty acids, and they make fatty acids with an even number of carbon atoms. But when researchers tested the fat they found in clogged arteries, they came across fats with branched fatty acids and odd numbers of carbon molecules. These fatty acids are linked to a particular kind of oral bacteria, called Bacteroides.

Bacteroides are commonly found in the gut, where they can actually play a beneficial role, by breaking down some toxic plant sugars and turning them into usable compounds. But when they infect the mouth, some species of Bacteroides can be very damaging, stimulating bone loss and triggering inflammation. These bacteria also regularly shed a steady stream of fats that find their way to the bloodstream.

A Triple Whammy for Your Arteries

The new research shows that Bacteroides fat can be particularly damaging for your arteries. First, there’s the simple fact of the physical clog. The physical clogs in your blood vessels restrict blood flow and can break off, leading to an ischemic stroke or heart attack.

But because of the strange structure of the lipids, they get recognized as foreign bodies, triggering the immune system, which leads to inflammation. In addition, as the bacterial fat breaks down, it becomes compounds that also trigger an inflammatory response.

With these three factors, these strange bacterial fats can cause the arteries to swell, deform, scar, and clog. The result is, ultimately, heart attack, stroke, and many other cardiovascular problems that can, eventually, be fatal.

Protect Your Teeth and Your Heart

With this new information about Bacteroides species, it becomes important for us to try to eliminate them from the mouth. When we treat gum disease, we can genetically test your oral bacteria. We can identify whether Bacteroides are present in your mouth and may be contributing to your gum disease–as well as heart disease–so we can treat it aggressively if necessary.

We also offer preventive care that can help you avoid these types of damaging oral infections. If you are looking for a high-calibre, full-service dentist in Irvine, please call (949) 551-5902 today for an appointment at Rice Dentistry.