My dentist once told me that I needed to floss to prevent heart disease or future pregnancy complications. (We'll come back to that.) I was skeptical and, though I managed to floss pretty consistently for a couple of months, the flossing scare soon passed. I have permanent retainers, and flossing it a pretty long process. Save my teeth, my heart and my future baby? Can't be bothered.
What the dentist told me was, of course, true. Yes, flossing is important because it gets rid of the food stuck between your teeth. It's perhaps even more important to floss for the sake of your gums; gingivitis occurs when plaque, the bacteria that accumulates between gums and teeth, introduces foreign chemicals and toxins that inflame the gums. Over the years, the infection can eat away at the gums, causing deep pockets between the teeth and gums.
Gingivitis can be accelerated during puberty or pregnancy and with uncontrolled diabetes. Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, or bone loss in the mouth. If the inflammation suddenly amplifies, it can turn into trench mouth, a condition that couples bleeding gums with ulceration and fever. On the other side, having gingivitis can complicate or create other health problems. If bacteria in the mouth enters one of the open sores caused by gingivitis, it can get into the blood stream, causing blockages that can cause heart problems and miscarriages, not just cavities and bad breath.
But Flossing Hurts!
Unhealthy gums react poorly to the abrasion of floss. The often bleed or become swollen until the gums become accustomed to flossing. Flossing should be done gently, and floss shouldn't be "snapped" up between the teeth, but even when floss is gently guided toward the gums, it can still cause sore, bleeding gums. This pain and bleeding foils many attempts to become a regular flosser; getting into the habit eventually makes gums tougher and more able to take the abuse, but that means enduring the pain for a few days in a row.
Using bacteria-filling mouthwashes like Listerine can help ease infected gums (once it stops stinging) in the initial stages, and can actually be quite helpful in preventing the progression of gingivitis, but it isn't the only option.
One of the most popular flossing alternatives right now is the Waterpik. According to a recent study, using a waterpik man actually be more effective than flossing when coupled with brushing with a manual or an electric toothbrush. They certainly cost more than floss, but for the reluctant flosser or the person who is nervous that flossing isn't cutting it.
Electric flossers have also entered the market. The concept for these is about the same as regular floss, but it vibrates between teeth. While this can initially cause more bleeding, the abrasions, which can be caused my regular flossing, are more consistent, meaning that the entire area becomes accustomed to the daily invasion more quickly. The electric flosser should be used carefully - the flossing device should be between the teeth before you turn on the vibrator, and the device can jam if it's moved much while the vibrating mechanism is turned on.
You don't have to spend a lot of extra money on these devices to have a healthy mouth. The most important aspect of flossing is to do it regularly. If you need a novelty item to make it work, maybe that's the best thing you can do, but having a water pick that you don't use on your bathroom counter will not save your teeth or gums. I didn't start flossing regularly until my gums became sore when I hadn't flossed, not when my dentist told me that a bacteria-filled mouth could cause heart disease. Most people are more intelligent, but most people are also lazy. Whether you use the free floss provided by your dentist or spend the extra money for something more fancy, do what it takes to build a routine of healthy oral hygiene habits.