Flossing Under Fire

Flossing has come under some heavy fire in recent months. This article is intended to inform anyone who is curious as to why dental hygienists will still be encouraging their patients to floss. In the interest of accuracy, I’ll be referring to “cleaning between teeth” rather than “flossing”; after all, there are more ways to clean between teeth than just using floss.

Daily “cleaning between teeth” is incredibly relevant and will continue to remain so to your ethical dental hygienist simply because hygienists, given the nature of their profession, are strategically placed to observe evidence which supports their recommendation. Patients who are reluctant to make a habit of “between teeth cleaning” consistently demonstrate more severe gum inflammation, gum bleeding, and off-putting breath odor than their eager-to-floss counterparts. All of the previously mentioned symptoms stem from some level of gum disease.

So what really triggers gum disease? Research has produced evidence which indicates that single bacteria are NOT responsible for gum, tooth, and structural damage in the mouth. Instead, it is when these individual bacteria form a colony – termed a “Biofilm” – with numerous other bacteria, that destruction really sets in. Biofilms – essentially a bacteria slime layer – have far more destructive potential than an individual bacteria. A Biofilm will release collective bacteria by-products which are highly acidic. It is this acid which “melts” tooth structure (creating cavities), and which has a level of potency which triggers strong inflammatory responses from our own bodies resulting in gum puffiness, soreness, and eventually, collapse of the supporting structures of the tooth (if inflammation is allowed to continue unchecked).

Like a castle fortress, Biofilms, once established, are incredibly difficult to infiltrate and remove (unlike individual bacteria). Such tools as high-frequency sonic instruments, high-pressure water, and sharp manual instruments are some of the few appliances which can successfully eradicate Biofilm. How then can Biofilm formation be prevented? Consistent disturbance of oral bacteria on every surface of a tooth (including between) will effectively reduce the chances of Biofilm establishment. Individual bacteria have been found to require two to three days in an undisturbed environment to create a stable Biofilm; this is why hygienists encourage all of their patients to find a comfortable “between the teeth cleaner” and to use it daily! It’s all about disturbing bacteria!!

Please don’t let hatred of floss stop you from caring for your teeth and gums – there are plenty of alternative “between cleaners” out there to try! Ask your hygienist for his/her recommendations!

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