There are few things that seem to be as integral a part of good oral hygiene as flossing. Parents usually begin teaching their children at an early age how to floss their teeth, and it’s a task reinforced throughout life by dental professionals who stress the importance of flossing daily. In fact, many people wonder if they should be worried if they forget a day or two of flossing.
But it turns out that flossing could have benefits beyond just your teeth and gums–and may even play a role in heart health. It might sound like an unexpected claim, and some scientists are unsure if bacteria from your gums can affect your heart, but other research suggests that if you don’t floss daily, you’re at greater risk for developing certain cardiovascular conditions.
What is flossing?
Flossing is the act of carefully inserting a thin filament called dental floss between two teeth, and rubbing it up and down against the surface of each tooth in an effort to cut away plaque that has built up there. This process might also be described with phrases like “scraping,” “cleaning,” “sweeping,” or “rubbing” the teeth.
Flossing is considered by most people to be an important step in an overall oral hygiene regimen. When done regularly, it is believed to help remove plaque and food debris from between teeth, before they can turn into more serious problems like cavities and gum disease.
However, like many daily hygiene tasks, flossing can be easy to skip without noticing. Hopefully the possibility of these benefits will make it easier for you to remember to do it!
The Link Between Flossing and Heart Health
There are several types of cardiovascular conditions that have been linked in some way with poor oral hygiene. Atherosclerosis, also known as “hardening” or “clogging” of the arteries, is the process by which plaque builds up in the inner lining of an artery. This can happen anywhere in the body, but often occurs near joints.
Over time, this plaque buildup narrows the inner diameter of an arterial passageway, limiting blood flow. In the heart, this condition is known as coronary artery disease and has the potential to lead to several grave consequences–including death in some cases.
What can flossing do about it?
So how does flossing come into play here? Unfortunately, scientists aren’t yet sure exactly why there seems to be a connection between poor oral hygiene and atherosclerosis. But there are several theories, including ideas that poor oral hygiene can lower the strength of your immune system , open up blood vessels to bacteria, or create an environment where plaque can grow more easily.¹
However, despite uncertainty about exactly how flossing helps reduce one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, research has shown that maintaining good flossing habits can have a major effect.
Even if you aren’t able to floss daily for some reason, there are still benefits that can come from flossing at least once every so often. Some studies have suggested that even sporadic bouts of flossing can bring down your risk of cardiovascular problems considerably.
Benefits of Flossing Your Teeth
- Reduces the risk of cavities and periodontal disease
- Improves bad breath
- Helps remove bits of food stuck in the gaps between your teeth, reducing your risk for cavities
- Flossing has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related problems as you age.
- It may even helps prevent heart disease.
How Often Should I Floss?
If you have healthy gums, the American Dental Association recommends flossing once a day. People with gum disease should visit their dentist and ask for advice on how often they need to floss.
What Type of Floss is Best For Me?
There are no major differences between the different types of floss available. If you find one kind of floss works better for you than another, stick with it.
How to Floss Properly
Place the floss between two teeth. Use your thumbs and forefingers to work the floss up and down against each tooth. You should be able to feel the floss working across the surface of each tooth as it moves behind the wire of your braces or between the gaps in your teeth.
Floss at least once a day to keep your gums and teeth healthy. For more information on flossing, visit the ADA’s website. If you have questions about maintaining good oral health, you may reach our Hagerstown, MD, office at 301-791-1700, or our Chambersburg, PA location at 717-264-7828.
1.Kim, J. (n.d.). Periodontal disease and systemic conditions: a bidirectional relationship. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2443711/.
2.Harvard Health (2021). How plaque on your teeth may be connected to plaque in your arteries. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/gum-disease-and-heart-disease-the-common-thread.
The information provided on this website should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition and is not meant to take the place of professional medical advice. If you think you have a medical problem, please seek the advice of a physician. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.