Many people floss because we know plaque build-up can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

The truth is the mouth is the window to the rest of the body. Bacteria from the mouth has been linked to dementia, strokes, heart disease, increased risk of oral cancer, respiratory infections and even low birth weight in babies.

Gum bacteria can also systemically affect people with diabetes. In fact, it has been proven that if a diabetic patient, who has active periodontal disease, gets it treated, their average daily sugars will drop by an average of 20 points. Patients with heart disease must also do everything in their power to keep their mouth pristine. Current studies have shown that the more bacteria that gets built up in the mouth daily, the more bacteria present in the blood that can reach the heart.

Bleeding is not a sign to avoid an area, but is an area to be concerned about. If you have bleeding during flossing, most likely you have either gingivitis (swelling of the gums) or periodontitis (gum disease that includes bone loss around the teeth) and should be seen by a dentist who can determine the type of treatment you need to heal the area. If someone has bleeding on any other part of one’s body, they would not ignore it. Please know that ignoring bleeding gums can turn a small problem into a life threatening situation.

Daily flossing gets into places that brushing can’t reach and minimizes the bacteria present.

What is the right way to floss? Proper flossing removes plaque and food particles in places where a toothbrush cannot easily reach. Many people do not floss correctly. The two most common misunderstandings about flossing is you must reach under the gum line and behind your last tooth.

Most professionals will agree that after the last food consumed in the evening or after breakfast is the best time to floss. A common question is should one floss before or after brushing? The dental community as a whole is split on that question. I believe as long as you do it, that’s what counts.

Children need to clean between their teeth, too. Start as soon as your child has two teeth that touch. Because cleaning between teeth demands more manual dexterity than very young children have, children usually are not able to do a thorough job on their own until age 10 or 11.

Keep in mind that cleaning between your teeth should not be painful and could be an indication of gingivitis or periodontitis. If you floss too hard, you could damage the tissue between your teeth. If you’re too gentle, you might not get food out. It’s normal to feel some mild soreness when you first start, but don’t give up. If you continue daily brushing and cleaning between your teeth, that discomfort should ease within a week or two. If your pain persists, talk to a dentist.

There are several options for cleaning between teeth. You might choose to use dental floss or another product specifically made for this purpose like a dental pick, pre-threaded flosser, tiny brushes that reach between the teeth, or water flosser.  There are some benefits to each, but a good dental professional will optimize the products that are best for your specific situation.

Why has there not been a huge study to prove the need to floss? Studies are expensive and difficult to standardize. In my 20 years of practicing dentistry, I have never seen anything that saves people more money and increases the longevity of teeth better than daily flossing.

Dr. Blaess is with Northwoods Dental & Spa and De Zavala Dental.


By Dr. Irene Blaess