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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Environmental Health Note/Brush Up

Air Date: Week of February 11, 2005

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that brushing your teeth daily could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: Just ahead...Win some, lose some: The discovery and disappearance of new species on the bio-rich island of Madagascar. But first, this Environmental Health Note from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: Mom always told you to brush your teeth, but she probably didn't know that it just might save your life. According to the Columbia University Medical Center, brushing up daily could decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. Six hundred and fifty seven patients opened wide as scientists measured the levels of different kinds of bacteria in their mouths.

They also measured the thickness of their patient's carotid arteries because the thicker the arteries, the higher the risk for heart disease. Scientists discovered that patients with thick carotid arteries also had high levels of the bacteria that causes gum disease--a condition characterized by bleeding and sensitive gums. Although there's a concrete connection between the two, it is unclear which comes first – thick arteries or gum disease.

One explanation could be that as the bacteria moves through the body's bloodstream, it causes inflammation that clogs arteries and, ultimately, leads to a heart attack. The next step for researchers is to conduct a long-term study in which patients gum disease and heart health will be monitored and the connection between the two will be clarified.

But before altering your schedule to brush ten times a day, be warned: only the specific bacteria associated with gum disease has any connection with cardiac health. Scientists say there are benefits to other bacteria, which could help keep your teeth clean of tiny pests. That's this week's health note, I'm Jennifer Chu.

GELLERMAN: And, you're listening to Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Rick 'l.a. holmes' Holmstrom "Tacos de Pescado" Lookout (Black Top) 1995]

 

 

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