Pearly whites make for happy hearts

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You do all you can to keep your ticker in top shape. You work out, don't smoke and avoid artery-clogging fatty foods. But do you floss? If not, you may want to start. Two recent studies from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Temple University School of Dentistry and Medicine in Philadelphia found strong evidence suggesting that dental health is an integral element of heart health.

Researchers believe the same bacteria that causes gum disease can enter the blood stream and prompt blood platelets (the body's clotting mechanism) to clump, which may ultimately lead to blood dots, a precursor to stroke and cardiac arrest. "At least 36 million American adults have some form of destructive periodontal disease," says Eugene J. Whitacker, D.D.S., associate professor of dentistry at Temple University. "These people may be at an increased risk of getting heart disease and strokes if [the plaque bacteria] from their mouth gets into the bloodstream and clumps platelets."

While more research is required to determine if flossing and brushing really do more than pry that piece of lettuce loose, there's no downside to clean teeth and healthy gums. Besides who wants a glob of lettuce wedged between their teeth, anyway?

PHOTO (COLOR): Pearly whites make for happy hearth

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