You've heard flossing mentioned here before. Before I continue, let’s just get this out of the way – when I’m talking about flossing, I’m not talking about the floss dance move. I am, of course, talking about dental flossing. I realize that by pointing this out, you may not be able to get the dance move out of your head. But you know what? That’s a risk I am willing to take.
Back to dental flossing–does it live up to the hype and actually help improve our dental health and possibly other diseases?
Effects of Bad Oral Health
We often underestimate the importance of oral health when we think about living healthy. We always talk about nutrition, fitness, and stress management, but when we really take a moment to think about how dental health impacts everything else, it becomes pretty clear.
For example, if you lose your teeth, it will definitely influence the foods you are able to eat. Your teeth are obviously responsible for chewing, and if you’re missing teeth, you won’t be able to properly chew certain foods.
There are 2 common types of oral conditions.
Gingivitis occurs when plaque begins building up, causing the gums to become red, swollen and inflamed. It doesn’t necessarily lead to tooth loss. But if it’s not treated, gingivitis may progress to the other oral condition: periodontitis.
With periodontitis, bacteria and toxins really start to build up and get beneath the gum line. The body is smart enough to pick up on what’s happening and will try to kill those bacteria. But by doing this, the body actually makes things worse. The bacteria and toxins, in combination with the body’s immune system, begin to break down the tissue holding teeth in place.
Basically, periodontitis leads to tooth loss. In fact, periodontitis is the main reason why adults lose their teeth. It’s not the crazy bar fight they got into during spring break while they were in college.
Again, once you’re missing teeth, it’s going to be a challenge to eat many common foods. In turn, this could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Also, remember those bacteria and toxins I mentioned a minute ago? It turns out they don’t just hang out in our gums and on our teeth. They get into the bloodstream, too. This means that the immune system has to stay on guard and destroy the bacteria and toxins in the bloodstream, too. Otherwise, they can infect other areas of the body.
By keeping the immune system “on alert,” we are promoting the inflammatory process throughout the body. This is what’s also known as systemic inflammation.
Systemic inflammation may lead to other chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. In 2013, researchers examining the relationship between periodontitis and heart disease said:
“There is consistent and strong epidemiologic evidence that periodontitis increases risk for future cardiovascular disease.”
Alright. Enough of the scary stuff. Does flossing actually help prevent gingivitis and periodontitis?
Effectiveness of Flossing
Researchers looked at 12 published studies and examined the effects of flossing on gingivitis and periodontitis. Here’s what they said:
“[There is] evidence that flossing in addition to toothbrushing reduces gingivitis compared to toothbrushing alone.”
The researchers do admit that gingivitis doesn’t always lead to periodontitis, but it can. That’s why they conclude that flossing may help prevent tooth loss.
Of course for flossing to be effective, you have to know how to properly floss your teeth. I’ll let your dentist explain that process.
The last thing I’ll mention is that a recent study did find that those small, interdental brushes (those things that can squeeze in between your teeth) may also prevent gingivitis and possibly periodontitis. Again, I’ll let you discuss that with your dentist to see if it’s right for you.