Plus, how to floss properly.

Brianne Hogan
Jan 20, 2021 @ 4:49 pm
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Credit: Getty Images

Do you floss your teeth every day? Be honest. For many of us, flossing is one of those things that we know we should do more often but for some reason, we might skimp on. In fact, according to US News, "the first nationally representative analysis designed to determine how many people floss their teeth found that those who floss daily amount to only 30 percent of the [American] population." This means there's a whole lot of us who are negating flossing, which the American Dental Association calls "an essential part of taking care of teeth and gums."

So if you're part of the American population that doesn't floss, we have some unfortunate information for you. Below experts explain what happens to your body when you stop flossing, the importance of flossing, and how to floss properly.

What happens when you don't floss:

You'll get cavities.

"Throughout the day, a sticky coating of bacteria called plaque naturally forms on all the surfaces of our teeth," Dr. Jin Lin, D.M.D. tells HelloGiggles. "While many of the types of bacteria in plaque are actually beneficial, a few are harmful. When we eat, these harmful bacteria feed on the sugars in our mouths and then produce a highly acidic waste product that causes our teeth to lose minerals in a process known as demineralization."

Over time, says Dr. Lin, demineralization can lead to permanent damage in the form of holes in our teeth, a.k.a those pesky things called cavities.

According to Dr. Joseph Salim, owner and founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates, we essentially get cavities in two ways: Through the grooves, pits, and fissures of the chewing surfaces of our back teeth, or at the contact point between two adjacent teeth.

"The only thing that can reach and cleanse the contact point between two teeth is a floss that passes through it," says Dr. Salim. "By not flossing, we increase the likelihood of getting this second type of cavity, called interproximal decay. And that is because food debris and bacteria accumulate since gums do not get cleansed."

You could lose a tooth or more.

When cavities are left untreated, says Dr. Lin, they can become so deep that they reach the soft, nerve-filled center of our teeth, known as "dental pulp."

When harmful bacteria enter the dental pulp, the pulp can become infected, leading to pain, sensitivity, and swelling. "If the infection is not treated at that point, it can spread beyond the tooth, potentially leading to life-threatening conditions," he says. Tooth infections can spread to other areas of the body without proper treatment, in some severe cases, infecting a number of tissues and systems throughout the body.

Treatment for infected dental pulp may include a root canal or tooth extraction, says Dr. Lin, depending on the level of infection.

You could contract gum disease.

A more common result of not flossing is contracting gum disease.

"Bacteria produce acidic biochemicals through the fermentation of food debris," says Dr. Salim "These acidic compounds corrode enamel and form cavities. But the effect of acidic compounds does not stop there. Inflammation of the gums is also due to bacteria's fermentation of food."

Besides damaging the enamel of your teeth (the outer glossy, hard, ivory-white material teeth are made of) the acidic biochemicals also cause gums to become red and swollen and bleed, which are the first signs of gum disease.

Moreover, by not flossing, Dr. Salim says the gum area between two adjacent teeth is not stimulated enough for proper blood flow. "This is also a potential cause of gum inflammation and a precursor for potential gum disease."

According to Dr. Salim, there are two stages of gum disease:

1: Gingivitis, which is the general inflammation of the gums, due to bacterial activities around and in between the teeth. You will see swelling, redness, tenderness, and bleeding of your gums. This may or may not cause any pain, but is the first stage of periodontal or gum disease.

2: Periodontitis, which is a serious gum infection that leads to the inflammation of the soft tissue surrounding your teeth and the destruction of the hard tissue or the bone surrounding the teeth. If not treated, it can destroy the bone around and in between your teeth, leading to tooth mobility and, eventually, tooth loss.

When gum disease advances with time, according to Dr. Salim, it will diminish your gum and bone levels. "It will cause full-blown periodontal disease that will require gum surgery, among other extensive treatments such as bone and gum grafts."

The best preventative treatment, says Dr. Salim, is to get a cleaning at a dentist's office, at least once every six months, and to improve oral hygiene by brushing three times a day for two minutes and flossing at least once a day. "By doing so, you will reverse your gum disease and all its symptoms, including gums' bleeding."

How to floss:

According to Dr. Salim, pull about ten to twelve inches of dental floss from the container. Break it off and wind it around your index or middle fingers until you have about two inches between your fingers. Tip: make sure that the piece of floss is not too short, as a short floss will cause your fingers to hit the sides of your mouth and face, preventing you from reaching the very back teeth, the molar.

Next, gently glide the floss in between your teeth using a broken motion while avoiding excessive force. When the floss reaches the gum line, then curve it against one of your teeth and then slide it up and down in a "C" formation.

"Once you are done, wind your used floss around one finger and release some more unused floss to cleanse the next tooth. Repeat until you have flossed all your teeth without forgetting to also floss your molars and premolars."

A corollary of not flossing, says Dr. Salim, is that many people end up over-brushing forcefully to make their teeth feel cleaner. "This mistake causes trauma and leads to an irreversible recession of the gums," he says. "Once the gums have receded, the roots begin to be exposed in the oral cavity. The roots of teeth are devoid of enamel and are susceptible to temperature changes."

These temperature changes will, in turn, cause teeth sensitivity (like not being able to eat ice cream comfortably) and discomfort that can only be remedied by a dentist using gum grafts to recoup the missing gum, and/or by covering these exposed root surfaces with tooth-colored fillings.

Bottom line: Make flossing a regular part of your morning and nighttime routine—and make it fun by playing some music. Whatever it takes for you to take care of your teeth!