Brush Up On Your Dental Care Knowledge
How many times have you flossed prior to a dental appointment just so you can truthfully tell your dentist that you occasionally floss? Or you’ve ended a dental visit with a promise you’ll do better, and after a week of daily flossing, your effort tapers off to a couple of times a week or less until you wake up on the morning of your next dental exam to realize you haven’t actually flossed in months.
You are not alone. Dentists everywhere hear the same excuses: I forget, I just don’t like to, it’s such a hassle, I’d rather just pay to have my teeth professionally cleaned twice a year…
Plain and simple, there are three things you should do every day to maintain oral health that you can smile about:
- Brushing your teeth each morning (preferably after you’ve had breakfast).
- Floss between your teeth once each day.
- Brush your teeth again before bed.
To better understand the importance of running that silken strand between each of your teeth on a daily basis, let’s talk about the mouth-body connection. That’s right – your mouth has a lot to say about your overall state of health and it’s time you started listening. Bacteria that develop as a result of poor oral hygiene can enter your bloodstream and travel to other parts of your body, causing greater health problems than you ever imagined.
Flossing is Better than Brushing Alone
Every day your teeth become covered in plaque, a filmy substance that harbors disease-causing bacteria. Plaque hardens and becomes tartar where it is not brushed or flossed away. While brushing keeps the majority of the tooth surface clear and free of buildup, a toothbrush can only reach so far. It is quite possible for even the most habitual of tooth brushers to suffer from gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), which can progress to periodontal disease. In the worst cases this can result in the loss of teeth and even the underlying bone structure that supports the teeth.
The good news is that floss can remove particles between teeth and below the gum line when used properly. When you add flossing to your daily routine, you help protect your body from more than just tooth loss. Flossing lessens your chances of developing gingivitis. By avoiding gingivitis, you are less likely to suffer from more extreme forms of periodontal disease. When your mouth is disease-free, your whole body benefits.
Floss for Better Heart Health
People with periodontal disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. Since cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and nearly 75% of Americans suffer from some form of periodontal disease, periodontologists and cardiologists have recently teamed up to develop recommendations for doctors and dentists who are treating patients living with or at risk for either disease. If you have even one major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, periodontal evaluation should be a regular part of your health checkups and flossing should be added to your list of heart-healthy activities.
Floss for Blood Sugar Management
For people with diabetes, the relationship between blood sugar levels and flossing goes both ways. When bacteria are present in the mouth, controlling blood sugar levels becomes more difficult. On the flip side, when a person with diabetes has trouble managing their blood sugar levels, they are at higher risk for infection in all areas of the body, including the mouth. Therefore, regular flossing is a good preventative measure for avoiding the onset of periodontal disease when you suffer from diabetes, as well as a tool for more effective management of your blood sugar levels.
Floss for a Healthier Pregnancy
Some studies suggest that women would be wise to begin their journey into motherhood with a visit to the dentist and a clean bill of oral health. Women with periodontal disease, even when the symptoms are not overt, are seven times more likely to give birth prematurely than women with healthy gums.
More research is needed on the relationship between periodontal disease and pre-term labor risks, but because all infections in the body pose a risk to pregnancy, avoiding infections in the mouth through daily flossing is a simple route to healthier motherhood.
There is also evidence to suggest that flossing as a preventative measure for periodontal disease might also have an impact on chronic-lung diseases, complications due to waning hormone levels as you age, and dementia.
Do You Have Time to Floss Now?
Let’s say you are one of approximately two-thirds of adults who have not been able to successfully develop and maintain good oral care habits that include flossing. Never fear; it’s not too late to start.
Whether you are just starting to show signs of mild gingivitis or you are suffering from full-blown destructive periodontal disease, you can improve your situation and outcome by pulling out the floss now.
If your gums are red or swollen and tend to bleed easily, you are probably suffering from periodontal disease in its mildest form. Gingivitis, though it may not cause discomfort, is a sign that bacterial colonies have moved into the spaces between your teeth. At this stage you can break up those colonies with daily flossing. Gingivitis is a reversible condition and good home care habits with regular visits to your dentist can keep it away.
When Gingivitis goes untreated, pockets of tartar start to form below the gum line. The toxins produced in these pockets stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in your body. In essence, the tissues in your mouth, your teeth, and the supporting bone is broken down and destroyed. Because periodontitis comes in many forms and at varying rates of decay, it is important to work with your dentist on a treatment plan which includes periodontal intervention as well as home oral care measures, flossing included.
The Only Excuse you Need
People who floss daily have less of the bacteria associated with periodontal disease in their mouths than people who do not floss. One recent study illustrates just how powerful the flossing effect can be. After a two-week regimen of brushing vs. brushing with flossing in sets of twins, those who flossed had significantly less periodontal disease-producing bacteria than those who did not.
The body is an interconnected system. If the immune system is compromised, it doesn’t matter whether the problem originates in the mouth or in the big toe; disease can spread to all parts and have an impact on the whole system. A little floss goes a long way toward keeping the whole body healthy.
Written by Thomas Connelly
Cosmetic Dentist, New York, NY