Raise your hand if you’re guilty of answering “yes” every time your dentist asks you if you’ve been flossing regularly—even when you most definitely have not. *Raises hand*
As the words spill out of your mouth, several minutes later, so does the ultimate lie detector: your bloody gums. “You can tell if someone is regularly flossing and taking care of their gum tissue, or if they’re just doing it sporadically,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, a New York City-based dentist.
While the white lie may seem harmless, the consequences of not flossing regularly are not. Someone who doesn’t floss regularly (or at all) may increase their risk of red, bleeding, or inflamed gums, decay where their teeth touch (contact area cavities), or gum disease. These conditions can lead to tooth pain and even tooth loss. Even more teeth-chattering? Bad oral health can affect your risk for heart disease too.
How Flossing Keeps Your Teeth and Gums Healthy
Tooth decay is a common disorder; it actually comes in second to the common cold. That’s because bacteria normally live in the mouth, and when that bacteria come in contact with food (which is multiple times a day), they turn that food, especially starches and sugars, into acids. These acids and bacteria then combine with leftover food and saliva to create a sticky substance called plaque.
Plaque begins to build up on teeth within 20 minutes after eating, and loves to live on the back molars, just above the gum line on all teeth, and at the edges of fillings. If it is not removed, tartar buildup and tooth decay begins, which pave the way to cavities, gingivitis, or periodontitis.
Your toothbrush does a pretty good job of cleaning out that pesky plaque, but unfortunately, it doesn’t get all of it. “Your toothbrush can’t get into those crevices where your teeth meet each other or deep below the gum line,” says Dr. Jablow. “Flossing gets into those deep crevices in the gum tissue where the bacteria mostly reside. By getting rid of the bacteria you’re creating a healthy environment for your mouth and making yourself less vulnerable to gum disease.”
Dentist-Recommended Tools for a Flawless Floss
Dr. Jablow recommends cleaning between your teeth daily with an interdental cleaner (like floss). Whether you use a dental pick, string floss, a tiny brush that reaches between the teeth, or a water flosser is up to you, although Dr. Jablow prefers a water flosser for its ease of use.
“My advice to everyone out there about flossing is to get a water flosser,” says Dr. Jablow. “Once you have a water flosser, you will not skip flossing because it actually massages the gums. You feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, and it doesn’t feel like such a chore like the string floss.”