Tooth brushing and flossing are the dynamic partners of good personal oral hygiene.
Most people understand the need to brush regularly, but flossing sometimes falls by the wayside. Brushing makes the teeth look clean, and flossing requires floss and a different technique than simple brushing.
Not flossing, however, is a big mistake that can lead to serious problems that go beyond just cavities, said Dr. Shalini Mohan, lead dentist at Downtown Dental & Implants of Oswego.
Flossing reaches the 35 percent of the tooth surface that a brush cannot, she said.
The target of flossing is removal of plaque, formed when bacteria and food particles, moisture and other substances combine and are left long enough to accumulate. Plaque can soften the tooth enamel, and soft enamel is a haven for cavities, Dr. Mohan said.
Just as important, not flossing contributes to gum disease.
Plaque causes gum inflammation, called gingivitis, which is sometimes indicated by “bleeding gums.” Gingivitis is a precursor to the more serious periodontal disease. More than half of all adults in the U.S. have some form of periodontal disease, which is irreversible, Dr. Mohan said.
Ultimately, bone underneath the gum begins to deteriorate and can result in tooth mobility and tooth loss over a patient’s lifetime.
Periodontal disease can also increase the risk of other health conditions such as diabetes, and can contribute to heart attack and stroke, she said.
In fact, some studies show that flossing once a day increases a person’s life expectancy by six years.
The most important time to brush and floss is before bedtime. Saliva flow decreases when you sleep, so there is less to neutralize acidity in the mouth. Brushing and flossing reduces the amount of bacteria that remains overnight.