A 59-year-old woman contracted a ‘potentially fatal’ heart infection weeks after using a tongue scraper
The mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, most of which are harmless until they enter the bloodstream. When microbes enter the bloodstream and enter the heart, vulnerable valves can become infected. Unfortunately, some practices aimed at improving oral health can have deadly consequences for the heart.
Tongue scraping is a common practice to remove the bad bacteria that causes gum disease.
The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases explains: “Tongue scrapings are recommended as a therapy to treat bad breath and as a method of preventing cavities by reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth.
“The practice has been around for centuries.”
When tongue scrapings and other oral hygiene practices are ignored, they can pave the way for serious health complications such as heart disease and cancer.
READ MORE: Reddish-brown lines under nails may signal endocarditis
However, oral hygiene may also require some care, as it can also become a gateway for infection.
In 2007, the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported the case of a 59-year-old patient who developed progressive malaise, fever, sweating, myalgia, and headaches.
“Two months earlier, she began cleaning her tongue with a plastic tongue scraper purchased from a local pharmacy,” the report notes.
On examination at a local hospital, the patient reported severe headache and myalgia with fever, and had a history of heart valve abnormalities.
Doctors suggested that the bacterium from the scraping from the tongue most likely caused the patient’s endocarditis.
“The relationship between oral microflora and endocarditis has long been recognized. […] There are numerous reports of endocarditis after tongue piercing,” they noted.
Interestingly, bacteria caused by routine toothbrushing are not clinically relevant in the development of endocarditis.
This may be because the bacteria entering the bloodstream when brushing your teeth may be less than with more extreme methods such as tooth extractions.
“People with abnormal heart valves and intravascular devices such as pacemakers may be at particular risk,” the authors explained.
READ MORE: Bacteria in gums linked to heart disease in older adults
They added: “Patients with prior infective endocarditis and high-risk heart valve defects should be advised that the use of a tongue scraper is not appropriate.”
According to the NHS, endocarditis is a rare and “potentially fatal infection” of the inner lining of the heart.
The health authority adds: “Most of the time it’s caused by bacteria that have entered the bloodstream and made their way to the heart.”
This can happen as a result of tongue scraping, if the person presses too hard on the scratch and causes bleeding, which can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Another hidden and less serious risk associated with tongue scraping is applying too much pressure, which can damage your taste buds over time.
However, all oral hygiene measures are welcome because the bacteria that attack the gums in gum disease can get into blood vessels in other parts of the body and cause other types of collateral damage.
Sometimes it spurs inflammation in the vessels, which leads to the formation of blood clots, heart attack and stroke.
Safe oral hygiene practices, such as cleaning between teeth before brushing, can help get rid of bacteria and food debris between teeth.
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