If you think that flossing only matters for your teeth — or worse, if you think flossing doesn’t matter at all — then you need to read this.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T FLOSS?
If you don’t floss, beware. In between your teeth and your gums is a little cave called the “sulcus”. This is a place no toothbrush can reach, where disease-causing bacteria live. If these bacteria are not disturbed, they multiply, irritating and infecting your gums.
We all know the obvious, what our dentist tells us every six months: if we don’t floss, our teeth will stain, breath will become bad, and we’ll likely get cavities. Keep it up long enough, and our gums and eventually bone will recede. Expensive medical attention may become necessary. No one can afford those bills.
But perhaps the worst effect of not flossing is what cutting-edge research is only now beginning to understand — inflammation. And it affects pretty much everything.
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation is a normal immune response. It is essential to protecting our body from harmful “invaders” like toxins, viruses, or bacteria. But if inflammation persists too long (say, bacteria have found a safe haven in your sulcus) it becomes harmful.
“If you disrupt the gum layer even a little bit, you’re going to get bacteria in your bloodstream, which can go anywhere and trigger inflammation throughout the body,” says Thomas Boyden, Jr., MD., medical director at Spectrum Health Medical Group, “Inflammation is one of the main things that cause damage to blood vessels, including those of the heart.”
It’s a reasonable suspicion that doctors have held for decades: not flossing leads to bacteria in the bloodstream, which causes chronic inflammation, which causes a feedback loop of harm almost everywhere.
People with gum disease are two- to three-times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have preterm labor. Alzheimer’s, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, weight gain, and erectile dysfunction are all linked to gum health.
Of course, just forgetting to floss is probably not going to give you arthritis all by itself. But since inflammation is a feedback loop, reducing inflammation everywhere you can is a wise choice.
BUT ISN’T BRUSHING ENOUGH?
Nope! If you brush your teeth but do not floss, you leave 35% of your tooth surfaces uncleaned.
“Every dentist in the country can look in someone’s mouth and tell whether or not they floss,” says Dr. Tim Iafolla, a dental health expert at NIH.
Many well-controlled studies found that brushing combined with flossing reduces gingivitis significantly better than just brushing alone without flossing.
However, make sure that you floss with proper technique. In one study, participants were divided into two groups: one that flossed themselves daily and one that was flossed by professionals daily. The group that was flossed by professionals were significantly less likely to develop cavities.
IT HURTS! I HAVE BRACES! I DON’T WANNA…..
There is no excuse to skip flossing! You can learn proper string flossing technique on YouTube. If you have braces, you can use a floss threader or a water flosser.
Water flossing is a more comfortable option than string and it is also more effective, since water can clean deeper into the sulcus than string can. If you are always too tired to floss or have trouble with proper technique, you can use Instafloss, a 10 second water floss that uses multiple jets and aims for you.
With so many options, it’s time to stop lying to your dentist. Make flossing a daily habit. A bright healthy smile is more than just gum-deep.