Weekly challenge: Schedule a teeth cleaning

Only 60 percent of us have visited the dentist in the past year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet new research suggests that regular dental cleanings lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In a study presented yesterday at the American Heart Association meeting, Taiwanese researchers followed more than 100,000 healthy people for an average of seven years and found that those who had their teeth scraped free of plaque, tarter, and stains at least twice a year had a 24 percent lower risk of heart attack and 13 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who had never visited the dentist or went once in two years.

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“Protection from heart disease and stroke was more pronounced in participants who got tooth scaling at least once a year,’’ Dr. Emily Chen, a cardiology fellow at the Veterans General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, said in a news release from the Heart Association.

That’s not surprising, since previous research has shown that people with gum disease have a higher rate of heart problems, possibly because bacteria from the mouth enters the arteries, causing vessel-damaging inflammation.

Solution? Visit the dentist at least once — but better yet — twice a year. If you don’t have dental insurance, the online insurance broker eHealthInsurance can compare plans in Massachusetts to help you find an affordable one.

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