A recent article by the Associated Press has churned up a lot of questions regarding the proven efficacy of flossing in the prevention of gum disease and cavities. The article claimed a lack of scientific studies to back up decades of dental office lectures and millions of miles of floss sold around the world.
As a practicing dentist, I can see on a daily basis the benefits of flossing without needing a scientist to tell me that they exist. But I also realize that not everyone flosses. Some people can get away with that. Many others, however, aren’t as lucky.
Let’s think about why flossing would be recommended in the first place: to physically remove food debris and bacteria from between your teeth and under your gumline.
Looking at it from the perspective of personal hygiene, this seems like something everyone would want to do. There isn’t anything delicious about finding a piece of steak between your teeth and realizing that the last time you had steak was three days ago. Nor would you be okay with leaving colonies of bacteria anywhere else on your body (or maybe you would, but that’s a topic for a different discussion on a different blog).
Now think about what happens when all of that “gunk” is left in your mouth.
As time passes, the “gunk” matures and becomes populated with bacteria. Sometimes you can see the thick, soft film known as plaque. Other times you may notice dark chunks of food or hard, cement-like sheets called tartar. As the buildup accumulates, it becomes increasingly acidic, and your gums may start to bleed. That’s because your body is sending an army of white blood cells (the cells that fight infections) to attack the foreign material and bacteria. As the acidity increases, your teeth become more porous and can begin to break down; this is a cavity or tooth decay. As your body continues to try to fight this brewing infection, the bone that supports your teeth begins to erode. When bone erodes, your teeth can become loose and may eventually be lost.
Bottom line: Not removing the gunk can lead to cavities and tooth loss.
Still not convinced? The next time you visit your (hopefully amazing and kind) dentist or hygienist, ask them to show you the plaque and tartar they’ve just removed from the surfaces and dark corners of your mouth. More than likely, you will see some amount of smelly, bacteria-laden buildup. Some people have very little. Some people have lots. Regardless, it’s there. The bacteria is there. Now ask yourself: Would you want them to put that back into your mouth? (Please say no.)
The point of my post is this: If you absolutely refuse to floss, if flossing gives you the heeby-jeebies, if you are super busy or just plain lazy (no judgement here!), do yourself a huge favor and see your dental team periodically so they can minimize your risks for tooth decay and gum disease. If you won’t remove the gunk yourself, allow someone else do it for you.
Flossing is not the only way to clean between your teeth. For some of you, it may be the most effective, but there are other tools out there designed to help you maintain oral health as simply as possible. Our team can help determine if floss picks, air flossers, water picks or other tools are right for you.