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The Surprising Benefits Of Regular Flossing

As a dentist, I always recommend some sort of interdental cleaning as well as your brushing routine. 

And it’s not just me, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) also recommends regular flossing.

You might be wondering “why is flossing important”? 

In this article, I will explain the benefits of flossing to keep your mouth clean. I will also tell you some surprising benefits of flossing that you might not have heard of.

Flossing is one type of interdental cleaning method – one way of cleaning between your teeth.

Other options include using a water flosser or interdental brushes. For the sake of this article, flossing refers to any of these types of interdental cleaning.

If you’re just getting started with flossing, be sure to head over to our how to floss hub page to find lots of useful guides and tips.

blue tepe, floss threader and floss pick next to each other

Flossing Keeps Your Mouth Clean 

Did you know that toothbrushing alone removes only 60% of plaque from your teeth?

This means that a significant amount of bacteria-containing plaque is still left behind after toothbrushing. Most of this is between the teeth. 

This plaque is the direct cause for both tooth decay and gum disease. Removing plaque build up is important to keep your mouth clean.

Summaries of the research by Marchesan et al, Ng and Lim, and a review by Worthington et al proves:

  • Flossing stops your gums bleeding.
  • Flossing prevents gum disease.
  • Flossing slows down advanced gum disease.
  • Flossing prevents tooth decay 

They all found that using interdental cleaning removes more plaque than only using a brush. Generally interdental cleaning brushes are better at this job than floss.

One final advantage in keeping your mouth clean is that flossing prevents tartar build up. Without tartar build up, you are less likely to suffer from staining on your teeth.

Tartar buildup on inside of teeth

Flossing Prevents Bad Breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, is caused by poor oral hygiene and untreated gum disease.

Flossing prevents bad breath by:

  • Removing plaque and food debris which cause bad smells in the mouth.
  • Removing the food for the bacteria which release compounds that cause bad breath.
  • Managing the gum disease and dental decay that contribute bad breath.

Health Direct actually recommends interdental cleaning as part of the oral hygiene measures to manage halitosis.

When you first start flossing you may even notice a bad smell that wasn’t there before. For more advice on this you can check out my article: what to do if your breath smells bad after flossing.

floss in between teeth

Flossing Helps You Keep Crowns And Bridges For Longer

Briggs et al found the most common cause of failure of crowns and bridges is dental decay.

Plaque is central to the decay process.

Flossing, and the alternatives, will remove the plaque from around the edges of crowns and bridges. Gold standard cleaning will help them last as long as possible.

Flossing Prevents Tooth Loss

Flossing is known to prevent tooth loss. Studies show that people who use interdental cleaning aids have more natural teeth than those who rely on brushing alone.

This comes down to removing plaque from the teeth and gums.

Failure to manage the plaque in your mouth can lead to dental decay and gum disease. As these advance, you will need treatments such as fillings for your decay or a scale and polish for gum disease.

Untreated dental decay and gum disease will result in a tooth extraction.

Severely decayed teeth

Five Benefits of flossing you may not have heard of

I have explained how flossing helps to keep your mouth clean. But did you know there are many other benefits of using floss to keep your gums healthy?

The links between oral health and your general health have been well documented. The National Health Service (NHS) and the European Federation of Periodontology (EFP) have lots of information about the links between diseases of the body and gum disease.

Flossing Protects Against Heart Disease

Keeping your gums healthy by including flossing can prevent the gum disease which leads to heart disease. Other forms of interdental cleaning are also beneficial.

The University of Adelaide explains the connection between the gums and heart disease in this pamphlet.  People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery (heart) disease than people without gum disease, so it is important to look after those gums.

Inflamed gums allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream from the mouth. This bacteria directly affects blood vessels and even the valves of the heart. This can lead to heart attacks.

Bacteria from the mouth are also a known cause of endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart lining.

The World Heart Foundation recommends flossing to help protect against heart diseases.

Perio & Cardio animation

Flossing Helps Avoid A Stroke

Recent research found that having gum disease can double your risk of stroke.

Failing to floss and keep your gums healthy leads to gum disease.

At advanced stages, gum disease can affect blood flow. This can have a devastating effect, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the brain, resulting in a stroke.

Look after your gums by flossing and you can reduce this risk.

Flossing Prevents Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs. It can be caused by a variety of factors. One of these factors is bacterial infection due to poor oral hygiene.

Poor oral hygiene over extended periods of time will result in gum disease.

The OHF says “People with gum disease have more bacteria in their mouths and may therefore be more likely to get chest infections.” 

The American Thoracic Society warns that bacteria in the mouth can be inhaled into the lungs. Although healthy bodies can normally defend themselves against this, disease affected lungs can be affected in a bad way by this.

Ensure you clean your teeth well twice a day, and floss daily to help prevent lung diseases.

Flossing Controls Diabetes (And Failing To Floss Causes Diabetes)

There is a very well known link between gum health and diabetes. 

If you have diabetes, poor gum health is linked to difficulties controlling blood glucose levels.

If you don’t have diabetes, you should know that people with moderate or severe gum disease have a 69% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Australia recommends daily interdental cleaning to help manage your gum disease and diabetes. This can reduce the impact of gum disease on people with diabetes, and reduce the risk developing diabetes in the long term.There is a lot of useful information from the European Federation of Periodontology, who collated international research in one place here.

Flossing Promotes A Healthy Pregnancy

Hormonal changes during pregnancy are a given, but did you know that these changes affect the gums?

Even if a person normally has healthy gums, pregnancy can influence their body’s reaction to plaque. This altered response can cause gum disease.

Gum disease can affect a pregnant person’s confidence and oral health in the future. 

Most gum disease will come and go as hormones change. This is pregnancy gingivitis.

There is a suggestion that pregnant people  with advanced gum disease are more likely to have a baby that is premature and has a low birth weight. But evidence is mixed about whether treatment of gum disease helps to prevent this, according to the Australian Government Department of Health.

In any case, prevention is better than treatment. During pregnancy it is especially important to keep flossing, even if you have bleeding gums. 

Flossing is an important part of your health care regime that will promote a healthy pregnancy, both for the pregnant person and for the unborn baby.

How do I start flossing?

So now that I’ve shared some surprising benefits of flossing, the next step is to start flossing. 

You should be flossing, or using another type of interdental cleaner, once a day. Try to do this before you brush your teeth in the evening.

Clean between your teeth using floss (or otherwise) in addition to brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

It is best for you to go to your own dentist or hygienist. They will make you your own personalised plan that is unique for your mouth.

Head over to our page that gives you all the information about how to floss, and watch the video below with Dr. Chhaya Chauhan, which gives a good introduction of what you need to do.

Flossing: A Quick Guide To Getting Started

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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