Whenever your dentist asks about your flossing habits, do you fib just a little? “Oh, yes,” you’ve been known to say. “All the time.” You leave the office, determined to be more mindful about flossing. You are—for a few days. And then you are back to your old ways of flossing occasionally, or maybe only when you feel like something is stuck between your teeth.
You wouldn’t be alone. According the American Dental Association, only 50% of Americans floss daily, 31% floss less than daily, and 18% do not floss at all. If you are part of that 50% who doesn’t feel flossing is a priority, you probably think brushing your teeth is enough. The truth is flossing along with brushing can prevent major health problems and help you hang onto your teeth longer. Learn all the reasons to floss >>
Every morning when you wake up, you have a thin layer of bacteria on your teeth called plaque. For people who say they don’t need to floss because food doesn’t get stuck between their teeth: It’s not just the food, it’s the bacteria in your mouth that you have to scrape off. If that bacterial build-up is not removed, it hardens into tartar. When plaque and tartar make homes underneath your gums, they can cause gum disease such as gingivitis, an inflammation of the tissue. If not treated, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, which is a disease of the bone and is the No. 1 cause of tooth loss, says Kimberly Harms, DDS, American Dental Association Consumer Advisor. Flossing can remove the bacteria and protect teeth from disease and from falling out.
Many studies have shown a link between gum disease and serious medical conditions. “We have seen that there is a relationship between higher risk of gum disease with heart disease, stroke and low birth-weight babies. We’re not sure why, but we do know if your immune system is compromised, you don’t want live bacteria in your system,” says Dr. Harms. And the way live bacteria would get in would be through bleeding gums. Also, if you have diabetes, you are at increased risk of gum disease, so all the more reason to be proactive in your oral hygiene and brush and floss regularly.
Saliva is a natural disinfectant in your mouth. Without it, bacteria get a better hold to cause gum disease and decay. With 90% of people over 65 on some kind of medication, and more than 500 common medications on the market that can cause dry mouth, many seniors are at high risk already for oral disease, says Dr. Harms. Regular flossing can help compensate for the lack of saliva by scraping off the bacteria that the saliva would have killed.
Though it's not technically a health reason, saving money can be an enticing reason to floss. How does it save you money? When bacteria build up on your teeth, they create tartar. Tartar essentially traps the bacteria underneath creating cavities. And those cavities can cost you a lot of money. The cost of filling a cavity is anywhere between $75 and $150 per tooth. That's just cavities. If you've got gum disease, treatment can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
If you have tight teeth…Pick a floss made out of Teflon, which are specifically made to slide through tight teeth. (Always look for the American Dental Association’s seal of approval.)
If you have widely spaced teeth…Use floss tapes.
If you feel too uncoordinated for regular floss…Try interdental cleaners—the floss is attached to little picks.
Waxed or unwaxed? Doesn’t matter, whichever you prefer.
Brush or floss first? Either way is fine, but the American Dental Society points out that if you use dental floss before you brush, the fluoride from the toothpaste has a better chance of reaching between teeth. Other people prefer to brush first so they can see what’s left before they floss.
When should children start flossing? As soon as they have two teeth that touch.
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