There’s nothing quite as uniquely irritating as having a bit of food stuck in your teeth. Sometimes, you simply can’t dislodge that stubborn popcorn shell or tiny bit of steak without some help. It’s a wonderful feeling once you finally use a toothpick or floss to get rid of it! Floss can be a great tool for removing bits of stuck food between your teeth, but do you use it regularly? Most of us have heard that it’s a key part of keeping good oral health. But if you brush twice a day and regularly see your preventive dentist for checkups, is flossing really helping you to fight plaque? Let’s break down how flossing works and discover why it’s so important.
Plaque and Tarter 101
Plaque is a sticky, colorless film that collects on and between your teeth. If you’ve ever run your tongue over your teeth and noticed that they felt “fuzzy” or unsmooth, you’re feeling the plaque that’s built up on them. If plaque is allowed to stay in place long enough, it hardens into a tough, yellowish substance known as tarter.
Both plaque and tarter contain bacteria that turns into acid when interacting with sugar from food. This acid can eat away at your enamel to cause cavities or attack your gums and cause inflammation.
Isn’t Brushing Enough?
Each of your teeth has five surfaces: the front, the back, the chewing surface, and two sides. A toothbrush does a great job of cleaning off the first three, but the bristles can’t reach the tiny spaces between your teeth. Dentists estimate that brushing can only clear out about 60% of the plaque in your mouth.
Flossing picks up where your toothbrush leaves off. When you slide that waxy thread between your teeth, it dislodges all the plaque and bacteria that have accumulated there, just like a piece of stuck food. This is the only way to remove the remaining 40% of harmful plaque and bacteria in your mouth!
What Happens if I Don’t Floss?
If you don’t floss, plaque and tarter quickly build up in those hard to reach places. The harmful bacteria they contain can infect your gums and cause periodontal disease, also known as gum disease. The first stage is called gingivitis, and usually only causes sensitive gums that bleed easily. However, if the infection worsens and reaches your jawbone, it can advance into periodontitis, which can cause:
- Toothaches or pain while biting down
- Loose, wobbly teeth that eventually fall out
- Larger systemic issues like heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease
So don’t wait for a popcorn shell to get stuck in your teeth. Flossing daily is an essential part of fighting off plaque and protecting your overall health!
About the Author
Dr. Nicholas Brong is a preventive, restorative, and cosmetic dentist at Zumbro Family Dental in Rochester, MN. He is a graduate of the University of California in San Francisco and loves to help his patients achieve and maintain the happy, healthy smiles they deserve. If you don’t floss very often and are worried you might have gum disease, his office also offers personalized periodontal disease examinations and treatment. To learn more, he can be contacted at his website or at (507) 288-1066.