Why should you floss? - A Guide to Dental Floss

Flossing is an important means of preventing tooth decay and gum disease. It removes trapped food particles between the teeth and this along with using a toothbrush ensure that your teeth are clean and protected against gum disease.

Flossing and brushing the teeth help to protect them against the build up of plaque which is a major cause of tooth decay and gum disease.

Not flossing means that nearly 50% of your teeth aren’t being cleaned. That’s a high percentage to deal with but it can be avoided if you floss your teeth.

Flossing and tooth decay

We have mentioned that flossing offers protection against tooth decay and gum disease.

How does it do that?

Tooth decay is caused by a residue of sugars and starches from the foods you eat plus bacteria in your mouth. These combine to form plaque. This plaque releases acids which then attack tooth enamel, resulting in a hole or ‘cavity’.

Brushing and flossing your teeth after every meal will remove these deposits and so prevent plaque from forming. Plaque forms on your teeth on a constant basis which means that you need to clean them regularly.

What exactly is ‘plaque?’

Plaque and gum disease

Plaque is a thin, sticky layer, which contains bacteria, and this forms on your teeth after eating. If it is not removed then it hardens and turns into a substance called ‘tartar’ which releases toxins into the gums. These cause the gums to become swollen and inflamed.

The gums then start to ‘pull away’ from the teeth and become open to infection. This infection then attacks the healthy bone surrounding the teeth and causes it to shrink. The results of this are highly sensitive teeth which become loose and are liable to fall out.

It is not usually possible to re-grow bone once it has been damaged; however, there is an advanced form of treatment called ‘tissue regeneration’. This involves bone and/or tissue grafting and is a possible answer to this problem.

(Source: Gum Disease Treatments: Consumer Guide to Dentistry: May 2009).

Tooth loss can mean dentures, a bridge or dental implants.

These are discussed in greater detail in our all about implants guide.

How does flossing protect against gum disease?

Gum disease is a very common disease in adults and if caught early, can be reversed. It is an inflammation of the gums which if left, can spread to the surrounding bone causing the teeth to loosen and eventually fall out.

There are two types of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis

Gingivitis is the milder form of gum disease and is characterised by red, swollen gums which may bleed if they come into contact with a toothbrush. This condition can be reversed if treated at an early stage. Periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease in which the gums start to recede, leaving a small area of space around each tooth. Plaque becomes trapped in those spaces and further increases this irritation.

This then affects the gums and bone structure, leading to shrinkage and possible tooth loss.

So, it can be a choice between using floss –as well as a toothbrush to clean your teeth thoroughly or risk losing them in the long term.

Flossing does not take long to do and can form part of your normal daily routine. If you clean your teeth in the morning and last thing at night then include flossing as well. Floss your teeth after you have used a toothbrush.

Why don’t some people bother to floss?

There are various reasons for this which includes a lack of awareness of the importance of flossing, teeth which are too tightly spaced together which makes flossing difficult or in some cases, not being inclined to do so.

But dental floss is inexpensive and costs much less than dental treatment for gum disease and tooth decay. It doesn’t take long and can be easily incorporated into a dental cleaning routine.

Flossing is the only way of preventing gum disease from developing between your teeth. It removes food debris from between your teeth and below your gum line.

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