To Floss Or Not. The Debate Goes On.

Posted on Jan 10, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

I’m not fond of taking out the trash. It’s one of those chores I don’t like to do and only do it because I know the consequences of ignoring a full trash can. I take the trash out each day because I’d rather spend those few minutes doing it than have smelly odors (and no telling what else!) emanating from the kitchen can.

As a specialist in treating periodontal disease, I have encouraged countless patients over the years to spend 1-2 minutes a day flossing their teeth. It’s not something anyone particularly enjoys. It’s just one of those things that, in my opinion, is well worth the time and energy.

Brushing teeth doesn’t always remove debris in the mouth. Flossing helps to remove food particles caught between teeth that a tooth brush cannot reach or dislodge. Removing this debris is important before the particles begin to break down and ‘feed’ oral bacteria.

As food particles remain in the mouth, oral bacteria thrive. While they consume, bacteria multiply. This means the more bacteria present, the more there are to multiply. This occurs so rapidly that the sticky film you feel on teeth at the end of a day is simply a coating of oral bacteria that has accumulated since your morning brushing.

This film, by the way, is known as plaque, which coats the teeth, tongue and gums. When not removed on a frequent basis, plaque can form cement-hard bacteria colonies that attach to teeth. This hardened form of bacteria is known as tartar (or calculus) and is what your hygienist is scraping off during dental cleanings. Once formed, tartar cannot be brushed or flossed away.

Obviously, keeping oral bacteria levels to a minimum is an important part of avoiding problems such as cavities and gum disease. Brushing and flossing are the tried-&-true standards for accomplishing this. However, like most things, a proper technique is needed to truly make a difference.

Just how important is technique? A study conducted by the University of Washington School of Dentistry found that when children between ages 4 – 13 had their teeth professionally flossed five days a week for a year and a half, there was 40% drop in cavity risk. The same age group who flossed on their own saw no such benefit.

This is one of the reasons many dentists and periodontists recommend water flossers. They are easy to use, affordable and often more effective than the flossing techniques of most people, adults and adolescents alike.

There have been debates in the dental profession on past studies that claim flossing provides little benefit. Some feel study participants were not followed long enough to determine true effectiveness and proper flossing techniques were not monitored. However, there is no debate regarding the benefits of keeping bacteria levels in the mouth to a minimum.

In spite of daily flossing and twice daily brushing, other factors can impact your potential for a healthy mouth. Every time you eat, an acid attack begins in your mouth. While this is the initial part of the digestive process, this acid places tooth enamel in a vulnerable position. For those who are frequent snackers, they have higher risk of oral problems since their frequent eating triggers more acid attacks during the day.

This is also true for people who sip colas during the day. When the acid in the soda combines with the drink’s sticky sugar, its potency doubles when it mixes with the acid in the mouth. This double-whammy of acid is a direct path to cavities and other problems.

If non-flossers could see the number of adults I’ve seen who have lost teeth due to insufficient oral hygiene, flossing wouldn’t look like such a chore. Regardless of the debate on flossing, taking an additional measure for fresher breath, fewer cavities and healthier gums is worth the small amount of effort needed.

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