If you feel guilty because you don’t floss your teeth, at least you’re in good company. Studies say that only three in 10 Americans floss regularly, even though it’s the best way to remove up to 80% of the plaque that’s lurking between your teeth. Yes, regular tooth brushing is important, but so is flossing, and doing both together on a regular basis can have a significant impact not just on your oral health, but on your overall health, too.
Why Flossing Matters
Regular flossing removes the bacteria in plaque, called biofilm, which can contribute to decay between teeth and lead to periodontal disease. But those plaque build-ups aren’t just bad for your teeth. “Dental plaque can make diabetes harder to control, and there’s evidence that it contributes to heart disease,” said registered dental hygienist Marie Paulis, the dental hygiene program director at the University of New Haven.
Researchers have cause to believe that gum disease can travel throughout the body, triggering inflammation in the heart’s vessels and infection in heart valves. It’s also been linked to strokes, diabetes complications and respiratory issues.
“Research also indicates that the presence of dental plaque in pregnant people can contribute to preterm births or low birthweight babies,” Paulis said.
And if things get bad enough, you might even end up with a syndrome known as “leaky gums,” which dentist and prosthodontist Dr. Jonathan B. Levine described this way: “If you don’t mechanically remove bacteria so it doesn’t build up, it can create a no-oxygen environment that causes bad bacteria to outgrow and colonize the good bacteria and lead to gum inflammation. Once that inflammation in the mouth becomes chronic, the bad bacteria can enter the rest of the body through what’s known as leaky gums.”
Finally, if avoiding leaky gums isn’t enough motivation for you, try putting your hand in front of your mouth and giving that breath a quick check. “The most common cause of bad breath is waste from bacteria, dead skin cells and food particles in the mouth,” said cosmetic dentist Dr. Brian Harris. “Flossing allows you to remove them, which will give you fresher breath.”
Don’t Bother Lying To Your Dentist
If you’re trying to convince your dentist that you’re a regular flosser when you really aren’t, don’t waste your time. After just one “open wide” look into your mouth, they can tell. “Typical signs include tartar buildup between the teeth, decay between the teeth and redness or swelling in the gums in the space between the teeth,” Paulis said.
And when it comes to offering up excuses, dental health professionals have pretty much heard it all. The experts we talked to said top patient excuses include lack of time, difficulty with the process and failure to get into the rhythm of a routine.
Step One: Buy Some Floss
“The best kind of floss is the one you’ll use regularly,” Harris said. “The most important thing is to find the best option for you and stick with it.” He did have views on the effectiveness of different thicknesses: “The most effective variety is thicker and woven, which will always remove more bacteria and clean the teeth better than thin floss,” he said.
Harris also suggested trying a few brands and styles to see what works for you. “For some people, floss picks work because they’re convenient and easier to use,” he said. “For others, fancy floss with good flavors enhances their experience and gets them excited about flossing. If you lack hand or finger dexterity, then a water flosser might be ideal.”
Step Two: Get Into The Habit
“I usually tell patients that it takes a month or two to have a new habit become routine,” Paulis said. “When they first try to incorporate flossing into their routine, I recommend making it as easy as possible, perhaps by keeping the floss in a prominent area or wherever they’re likely to relax and have a few spare moments.”
Levine suggested: “Try putting a note to yourself on your bathroom mirror, reminding yourself why you want to floss.”
Eventually, the experts said, it will all be second nature. “Once you successfully make flossing part of your routine, it will become something you don’t need to actively try to remember to do,” Levine said. “You’ll actually feel it in your mouth if you forget to floss one day, because it just feels better when you do.”