Will routine dental flossing possibly save your life?
Everyone starts and stops dieting. People enter and exit food and drug rehabilitation centers. People are less conscientious about preserving their smiles but smile quality is often a significant part of the cover that people are judged by others. How is your smile? When was the last time you flossed it?
Most dentists suggest that brushing and flossing between routine dental visits will preserve your smile. Flossing will actually reduce costly cavities, gum disease, and loss of teeth. Unlike eating, smoking, and drinking, flossing appears to be a difficult habit to make. Gum disease treatment may be financially exhausting as you pay dentists lots of money. One way to assure that your finances are solid may be an investment in and frequent use of dental floss. It’s a habit that may be worth making.
The activity of keeping the mouth clean goes back thousands of years to Buddha, the God figure of Buddhism. Buddhism is believed to have originated 600 years before the common era. It has been recorded that he would use a “tooth stick” as part of his personal hygiene regimen. This may have been the first known toothpick!
The Greeks and Romans ate burned bread that helped remove food particles between teeth. Burning bread was used by soldiers as a means of preserving rations. There is no doubt the oral hygiene was less significant as they fought and expanded their empire. Could they have been so successful because of their oral hygiene?
Breath quality was one of the ways to distinguish classes. By the 1800’s, most upper-class people realized that fresh breath was socially proper and attractive. It was common to use herbs like mint, sage, clove and myrrh in a paste of honey to clean the mouth. Possibly unknown to most, honey may have abated cavity formation as bacteria are less likely to colonize in high sugar environments.
In the 1900’s toothbrushes became more common and powders and pastes were marketed by apothecaries and soap companies. The breath quality rift between classes was less distinct. Up until the 1960’s, advertising promoted that brushing teeth between meals helped brighten your smile and prevent cavities. In those days of slow drills and inadequate anesthetics, having cavities were associated with pain through getting them and treating them. Dentists were seen as monsters.
There still was a common misconception that aging was correlated with tooth loss. By the time you reached your 60’s, most of your teeth would have been gone. That belief has changed. The focus shifted from teeth to gum health. Dentists recommended that oral hygiene should include gum massage. Electric toothbrushes like Oral-B and Sonicare help users brush more thoroughly and gently massage the gum line, the line separating the gum from the exposed part of the tooth.
Going back to Buddha, the practice of toothpicks was also fairly common but less socially acceptable. Slippage could result in accidental gum lacerations. So in the 1800s, the silk thread used for stitching became popular with a few for removing particles between teeth. In 1900, Johnson & Johnson started to market this as floss. Eventually, nylon replaced silk as the material for dental floss. Nylon’s consistent texture and resistance to shredding were an improvement over the silk versions. New synthetic materials based on polyester and advanced materials such as Gore-Tex are used for flossing. Different textures such as spongy floss and soft floss, plus added flavors help make flossing easier. If you don’t find string floss easy to use, many pre-threaded floss sticks are available.
In the movies, especially color movies, the big-screen promoted a shiny white smile. Movie studios hired dentists to help whiten and correct smiles, often with crowns to cover stained or crooked teeth. All those great smiles were manufactured and marketed. If you want to be seen visually, your smile needs to be perfect.
Cosmetic dentistry is an elective procedure and, often, not covered by dental insurance. With today’s implant technology, a perfect smile could cost about $50,000 or more. When you hear the saying “100,000 dollar smile”, you are close to what it actually costs.
Yet, if those smiles are crowns over natural teeth (more economical), those foundations are subject to damage by gum disease. In many cases, those crowns may need replacement by more expensive implants.
With all the wisdom of preserving your teeth through old age and assuring your smiles through your life span, why is flossing a hard sell?
Dental floss is a very low-price product and not routinely advertised in the media. There may be a psychological block involved. Bad habits are hard to break. Good habits are hard to start.
All the media about obesity, drug abuse, smoking, fitness, and alcoholism usually fail to reach and shift their target audience. There are many social and internal mechanisms that make these habits complex. Flossing is simpler and instructed by most dentists. Intent to floss and habitually flossing are two different things. Most adults were raised to brush teeth. Few were exposed to flossing. That is one simple reason why flossing is a hard habit to integrate among the many habits you already follow.
Your teeth and gums are intimately related. What surrounds the teeth and keeps them in place is more than just the delicate pink flesh we call our gums. As a group, all these structures are called the periodontium. The treatment of gums and their diseases is called periodontics. The gingiva is the pink flesh we call our gums. It lies over the bones of the jaw and hugs the tooth tightly at its neck. The earliest stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. At this stage, gums can become red, inflamed and bleed easily. The later stages, when bone loss and possibly tooth loss can occur, are known as periodontitis. At that point, you need to see a dental specialist aptly called a periodontist. Flossing might have prevented this from happening.
Over 50% of adults had gingivitis on an average of 3 to 4 teeth. The most common cause is food particle buildup that attracts germs that forms into hard plaque deposits over time. Plaque deposits are cities of germs that use your gums and teeth as food sources. You don’t feel them and you don’t see them. They are there and they’re hungry. Food particles attract more of them. Brushing frequently helps reduce plaque buildup but flossing habitually after eating adds further protection against swarms of new germ immigrants and colonialists.
If you complain about dental costs and are susceptible to gingivitis (common form of gum disease), you may save thousands of dollars if you make flossing a habit. Flossing is the best way to save money and preserve dental health. Apart from cost, the treatment for gingivitis is often invasive surgery. Your dentist slices your gum apart to clean out infectious tissue and sometimes needs to add artificial fillers to rebuild lost foundations that are causing your teeth to loosen. This is exacting surgery with possibly painful after-effects.
The point is most dentists and dental hygienists caution patients about the importance of flossing at each cleaning or exam. A thorough dental office cleaning usually includes measurements of gum pockets between teeth. This is usually done by a dental probe at the front and rear of each tooth. The dental professional is measuring for soft pockets in millimeter gradients. If a pocket is 1 to 3 millimeters, you have healthy gums. If 4 or 5 millimeters, you are warned of a problem area. If more than 5 millimeters, you probably need gum disease treatment or surgery. The exam is usually done after the cleaning when gum pockets are tighter after Cavitron is used for procedure.
There are social stigmas that conflict with flossing away from home. Using floss picks are very convenient for use in office and restaurant bathrooms. Flossing picks include pre-threaded floss and a specially designed pick. They are pocketable. Using them for about a minute after a meal helps remove food particles stuck between teeth. At home, I usually use a floss pick while watching TV. It’s an activity suitable for most couch potatoes.
Is a floss pick more effective than floss string? Studies indicate that there is no significant difference between picks and strings, as far as performance is concerned. The key difference is that floss picks may be more convenient and easier to use than strings. If floss picks make flossing more handy for frequent use, frequency is always the preferred method.
Are there flossing alternatives? Many people use chewing gum as an alternative. The American Dental Association approves use of sugarless chewing gum as, perhaps, the most convenient way to clear food particles around teeth when away from home. They do caution that chewing gum should not replace brushing and flossing.
Probably more for home use, a Proxabrush is often an ideal alternative to flossing. You can even pack one in your suitcase when traveling. Some people enjoy the feel of the handle, much like a tooth brush. The tips are replaceable. The familiar feel of this instrument may help some people adapt to using it more often.
Then there are dental rubber tips as a popular alternative. Use these to stimulate the gum line between, front and rear of teeth. It may not be as thorough as flossing. Part of the problem with gum disease is the reduction of blood flow to the tissue. Using a rubber tip stimulator helps increase blood flow. If your gums are red and puffy, not only will flossing lower the puffiness so will the massaging. Your gums should come to a point and be light pink, as healthy gums should appear. Sometimes I use a gum stimulator while watching TV. It feels like I’m pampering my gums.
Some dentists suggest using an oral irrigator. An oral irrigator is a home care device that uses a stream of pulsating water to remove food particles and stimulate gum tissue. The concept is a good one. Most people that bought one generally can’t get into the habit of routine use. While most are cordless, many don’t become familiar with that splashy feel while bending over the sink. Some dentists say a thorough brushing is as (if not more) effective than an oral irrigator.
Most electric toothbrushes have a timer. Usually about 2-minutes, it allows you to thoroughly focus on teeth and gums one quadrant at a time. If you feel you need more time, please do indulge yourself. Do not rush through the process. Get your two minutes and try to do it (at least) in the morning and at night. Flossing and chewing gum may be great during the active away-from-home hours.
If tooth loss doesn’t seem to bother you, consider that gum disease may lead to cardiovascular problems that may be life threatening. A blood-test inflammatory indicator called C-Reactive Protein is an index marker for overall body inflammation. Gum disease and bleeding gum disease may contribute to this score. A very high score may be associated to an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. Bear in mind, though, that high C-Reactive Protein may ne a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and several other health conditions. The exact relationship of gum disease and cardiovascular incidents has not yet been fully studied for a solid determination.
Studies indicate that older people have the highest rates of periodontal disease. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that over 70% of Americans 65 and older have periodontitis. A very small study in Florida supposes an association of gum disease and dementia. Of course this is a tiny study measuring bacteria presence. There are many debated reasons for cognitive decline and dementia. One might want to add this to them but there is no way to generalize thos relationship. If, however, an older person is suffering from cardiovascular events, gum disease might factor in.
More people focus on clothes, hair, face, body appearance. They generally disregard what’s going on in their mouths. You may have a fantastic appearance but you may suffer from gum disease and tooth loss. Though there may be genetic links, treating gum disease can put a considerable dent in your budget and finances. If you can add flossing to your lists of must-do habits, you can control gum and tooth health. Routine dental exams are necessary but you are left with more money (and health) to enjoy personal indulgences toward happier living. Make flossing part of your life plan. Is your smile worth it?