Most oral health professionals know the dental benefits of flossing and the importance of doing it regularly. However, if you don’t floss frequently you are not alone. More people choose to head to bed without using dental floss than those of us that spend that extra minute in front of the mirror.
In most cases, the only trigger to floss is when a fibrous piece of food, such as meat or apple skin becomes stuck. The pressure of the food debris is uncomfortable and in some cases, severe food impaction can be painful and result in infection. Removing it provides instant relief and in many scenarios people will also notice the presence of bleeding.
Food impactions are annoying, but they provide an insight into what is going on in between teeth and below the gumline. The presence of bleeding is a sign of inflammation, which is typically caused by bacteria. Inflammation is where the body increases blood flow to an area to deal with infection and mount its immune response. Low level gum infections such as gingivitis often don’t cause pain but if the bacteria are present for extended periods it results in progression to periodontitis where the bone that supports the tooth is eroded away.
Flossing, and interdental brushes are the only way to clean debris, but more importantly remove the soft bacterial plaque that is adhering to the teeth. Dental floss is designed to be pulled down in between teeth and carefully below the gum line where your normal toothbrush cannot reach. By pulling the floss against the surface of the teeth either side of the gap, the plaque film is broken up and wiped away.
Flossing should be done thoroughly but gently to remove the plaque, but not to cause any damage to the gum. Many people are put off flossing because they notice bleeding. In most cases, the bleeding will reduce the more regularly you floss, provided you are not being too aggressive. Twice yearly cleaning with a dentist or oral health professional is also essential to remove stubborn plaque and scale ( also known as calculus) deposits. Flossing can’t remove scale, and it may not be able to reach deep enough to get to some plaque in cases of more advanced gum disease. This is where the specialised equipment and skills of the dentist or hygienist can make a big difference.
So what are the benefits of flossing?
Food stuck between your teeth begins to break down or rot! As you can imagine the odour from this can contribute to bad breath. Bacteria present in between teeth can also produce waste products that are not kind on the nose. You will probably notice unpleasant odours while flossing as you are breaking up and then rinsing out the build up.
Mouthwash does not effectively remove plaque, but may temporarily relieve the odour. It’s the equivalent of putting on deodorant after a hard day’s work or going to the gym.
Reduced inflammation and gum disease.
Once the bacteria and food particles are gone, the amount of blood flow to the area will reduce significantly. Healthy gum is pink while infected gum is often red and puffy. As inflammation reduces, there should also be a reduction in tenderness when brushing and flossing. Inflammation of the gums is also linked to higher incidence of coronary artery disease and other chronic medical conditions. So a clean and healthy mouth can lead to other general health benefits.
If gum disease is reduced, you also get to keep your teeth for longer. The more regularly you floss, the less likely you are to have ongoing periodontal disease. By protecting the gum and jaw bone that supports the teeth, there is a reduced chance they will get loose over time.
Less decay between teeth.
Plaque between teeth can also cause tooth decay. In most cases this is not easily visible and requires x rays at your dental examination to detect. Because your brush cannot clean these areas, the bacteria that adhere to the surface can cause damage. Certain types of bacteria produce acid as a waste product which can dissolve the enamel surface, allowing them to infiltrate deeper into the tooth. Flossing removes the bacteria, and reduces the incidence of this decay.
Your dentist will be proud of you!
Dentists and hygienists are always happy when their patients have great oral hygiene. You might even get a sticker if you proudly announce how much you have been flossing!