Recently, while joking and bemoaning with a good girlfriend about the realities and our fears around getting older, she said, “I’m flossing like a maniac!” I laughed because that was one of the behaviors I’d adopted as well. I grew up seeing dentures placed nightly in a cup and didn’t even realize until I was an adult that our teeth can be lifelong companions. Like any well-functioning part of our bodies, our teeth are easy to take for granted until we stand to lose them or they become the source of discomfort and disrupt our daily living.
Flossing is an important part of maintaining great oral hygiene. According to the American Dental Association, 1 in 10 adults say they never floss. If you don’t floss or floss haphazardly, understanding some oral health fundamentals might inspire you to begin including flossing in your nightly routine.
Plaque is that colorless film of bacteria that daily coats our teeth and is at the heart of periodontal disease. Toxins produced by plaque create the multitude of dental problems we all dread, including eroded enamel, resulting in minor and severe cavities, hot and cold sensitivity, and irritated gums. While brushing gets rid of plaque on the surface of your teeth, flossing cleans out those tight spaces between teeth where a toothbrush doesn’t reach. If plaque is allowed to accumulate in these hard-to-reach spaces, small cavities form that ultimately can reach the tooth’s pulp, resulting in tremendous pain and the need for root canal treatment or tooth removal.
As plaque builds up along the gum line, gingivitis occurs, resulting in inflammation, tender gums, and bad breath. If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, it is likely you have gingivitis. Consistent flossing can resolve this problem; however, if bleeding continues after a few days of consistent flossing, you should see your dentist. It is possible you have tartar or a more serious periodontal disease that requires professional treatment.
According to the American Dental Association, proper flossing technique is more than sliding up and down your tooth into your gum. Instead, the floss should be wrapped around each side of each tooth, then rubbed in a sawing motion up and down the tooth in order to effectively remove plaque. It doesn’t matter if you floss before or after brushing, but doing it at least once a day preferably before going to sleep is the ADA recommendation.
Medical research suggests a connection between chronic gum disease and cardiovascular health, including conditions such as heart disease and stroke. So, beyond keeping your chompers happy, your breath fresh, and mealtime a pleasure, flossing and consistent whole mouth care benefits your overall health.