In an era of rising health care costs and diminishing insurance benefits, it pays to take steps to reduce your medical expenses.  Many people make a point of brushing their teeth twice a day, as the American Dental Association recommends, but fewer people follow the recommendation to floss at least once a day.  Floss gets in between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t.  An increasing body of evidence suggests that proper dental care — including regular flossing — can do more than keep your smile pretty.  A healthy mouth can also help prevent much more serious diseases, some of which can be life threatening.

Tiny particles of food can get lodged in between teeth causing plaque buildup which will harden and accrete over time to form tartar.  Tartar is a thick deposit that 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.

Periodontitis or gum disease is when the gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called “pockets”) that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed.  The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.

In some studies, researchers have observed that people with gum disease (when compared to people without gum disease) were more likely to develop heart disease or have difficulty controlling blood sugar. Other studies showed that women with gum disease were more likely than those with healthy gums to deliver preterm, low birth weight babies.

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.

Extensive research has shown that the bacteria that flourish in an unhealthy mouth can harm the rest of the body, leading to not only heart disease and diabetes but respiratory illness as well. This is such a significant risk 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. 

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.