The places where the gums and teeth meet are where flossing plays its major role. Tiny particles of food can get lodged here, and plaque in this area will harden and accrete over time to form tartar, a thick deposit that only the dentist can remove with a scraper. Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis: red, swollen gums that are the first stage of gum disease. If left unchecked, the bacteria-laden tartar and plaque can spread even deeper below the gum line, causing periodontitis: severe gum disease characterized by severe inflammation and eventual tooth and bone loss.
Floss can get into the space between the teeth and gums, removing much of the food and plaque that a toothbrush or mouthwash can’t move.
Flossing Can Save You Money
In an era of rising health care costs and diminishing insurance benefits, it pays to take steps to reduce your medical expenses. And according to research by the Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP), dental preventive care now can pay significant dividends down the road.
For a report published in 2005, CDHP researchers studied the costs of dental care for children who had their first dental checkups before one year of age versus children who had their first visit to the dentist after that age. By their fifth birthdays, the children in the first group had overall dental care costs some 40 percent lower than their peers.
Likewise, the researchers reported that in populations that statistically tend to rely on emergency room care instead of doctor visits, the cost for dental emergency visits can be as much as 10 times the cost of regular checkups over a given time period.
One of the reasons for the cost savings from regular dental visits? Education that encourages patients to brush and floss daily. Professional dental tools and procedures are highly advanced, and can repair even severe medical problems. But ask any dentist what the most effective, cost-efficient tools are for protecting oral health, and you’re likely to receive a free toothbrush and box of floss.
Flossing Helps Prevent Other Diseases
Tooth and gum disease can have effects that go far beyond discolored teeth, discomfort or bad breath. Extensive research has shown that the bacteria that flourish in an unhealthy mouth can harm the rest of the body, leading to heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illness. This is such a significant issue that, in 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began calling for public health initiatives to address oral health as a step toward addressing these potentially life-threatening systemic diseases: conditions that affect multiple organs and body systems.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and more than 25 million Americans have diabetes, so if periodontal disease — disease of the teeth, gums and mouth — contribute to these systemic diseases, then a tool that helps improve oral health can play a major role in improving public health. Flossing only takes a few minutes every day, and adds little to the cost of toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouthwash. It’s a small, simple step that can have huge implications for your long-term health.
Flossing Prevents Tartar Buildup
Few parts of a regular dental visit are as uncomfortable as the scraping the dentist or hygienist must do to remove tartar. Tartar is a hard buildup of plaque that forms around the gum line. Once it’s there, it can’t be removed without professional help. But thanks to floss, health-conscious individuals have a powerful tool to fight this stubborn problem.
Flossing allows you to remove the plaque that causes tartar while it’s in its early form: sticky, but soft and pliable. Since plaque doesn’t harden into tartar until it’s been undisturbed for a period of time, regular flossing can keep buildup from happening.
A key to successfully fighting tartar is to combine flossing with brushing and possibly an ADA-approved mouthwash. Floss can remove the tartar from around the gums, but it’s not able to strengthen tooth enamel like fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash can. Studies suggest that combining these tools delivers a one-two punch of physical plaque removal (flossing and brushing) and chemical cleaning (toothpaste and mouthwash).
Information from How Stuff Works