Contrary to popular belief, flossing is not just a way to dislodge food caught between your teeth. Regular flossing reduces cavities, gum disease and bad breath by helping to remove plaque, a bacterial film that forms along the gum line. More than 500 kinds of bacteria thrive in your mouth, and they can start to build up in only 24 hours.
Regular flossing helps to prevent gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums that causes them to bleed, swell, and turn red or reddish-purple. Untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, a condition that causes your gums to pull away from your teeth. Bacteria move underneath the gum line and attack the tissues and bone surrounding the teeth, leading to painful gums and tooth loss.
Recent research suggests that flossing can also help prevent heart disease, since bacteria under the gum line have easy passage to the bloodstream, where they can cause inflammation of blood vessels and encourage heart disease to develop. People with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from heart disease and coronary artery disease.
Studies have shown that people with acute coronary syndrome have twice the amount of oral bacteria as people without heart disease. While the mechanisms that link periodontal infection with coronary disease are still unclear, this data highlights the importance of routine periodontal examinations and at-home dental care.
According to a report in a recent issue of Stroke, dental infections like gum diseases and frequent or chronic bronchitis can double the risk of having a stroke. Studies have shown a link between bronchitis and gum disease with heart disease, leading to the belief that germs like Chlamydia pneumoniae may play a role in vascular diseases. Though the study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the infections and stroke, researchers believe that better control of infection and improved dental care may have contributed to a recent decline of stroke.
Research also shows that periodontal disease can be spread through saliva. Common contact of saliva from kissing may place your loved ones at risk for contracting periodontal disease.
Flossing your teeth may also contribute to a longer life. A study by Emory University with the CDC found that people who floss their teeth live 6.4 years longer than those who do not. The reasons given were the elimination of bacteria and decreased stress on the immune system.
What is considered an effective home dental program? You should spend at least 10 minutes brushing and flossing your teeth. Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day, once in the morning and once before bedtime, and use a mouthwash approved by the American Dental Association to help protect against bacteria and plaque. Make flossing a part of your daily dental routine. Start by flossing three times a week. After a month, increase to four times a week. In another month add another day and continue until you are flossing every day. There are many flosses on the market, and flossing devices that hold the floss in place are easy to use and easy to pack for travel.
See your dentist every six months for thorough examinations and cleaning. Inform your dentist of any discomfort you have noticed with your teeth or mouth. Consult a dentist immediately if you suffer from swollen or bleeding gums, continuous tooth pain or excessive bad breath.
A little bit of time and care — at home and on the road — can help you maintain your smile and avoid serious infection. A balanced diet, along with regular visits to your dentist, can further guarantee your general health. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov or www.ada.org.
How to Floss
• Take 18 inches of floss and wind it around a middle finger of each hand, leaving a few inches taut between them.
• Hold floss between thumbs and forefingers.
• Gently guide floss between your teeth.
• Curve floss into a “C” shape against one tooth.
• Gently slide it into the space between gum and tooth.
• Floss with 8–10 vertical strokes along side of the tooth.
• Floss all teeth, including behind back molars.
• Floss at least once a day, especially before bed.
• Floss either before or after brushing.
• After flossing, rinse with water or mouthwash.
• You may experience bleeding at first. This is normal and will lessen.
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