does flossing matter?

I really try not to give the dreaded “flossing lecture.” I really do. I believe that people should have control over their own health and if they choose not to do something, that is their prerogative.

But the more I read about the connections between gum disease and other chronic health conditions, the harder it is to keep quiet. I don’t pretend that flossing will change the world, but it might change your health.

Shortly after I began working in a dental office in the early 1970s, I discovered that my father had advanced periodontal disease. He was seeing a dentist whose only advice was “I am going to have to make you dentures in six more months.” The dentist I worked for at the time believed in prevention to his core, and it was from him that I first learned about proper home care. When I next visited my father, I taught him everything I had learned. The results were astounding, and even his dentist couldn’t believe the improvement. My father, of course, found a new dentist who also shared a preventive philosophy. And since that time, he has only lost two more teeth. One was lost because of decay on the roots (stayed tuned for more on that), and the other had tipped severely from losing the tooth in front of it due to his periodontal disease years ago.

I continue to be surprised by the number of new patients I meet who haven’t been properly taught to care for their teeth. They may have been told to brush and floss, but these are skills that must be learned and practiced. Telling simply isn’t enough. This month we have posted a brushing and flossing resource article specifically designed to teach you these skills. Even if you have been brushing and flossing regularly for years, I urge you to review this article. I cannot tell you how many people brush and floss regularly with the best of intentions, only to discover that their efforts are ineffective because of improper technique.

Obviously, the home care techniques we recommend are designed to aid in the prevention of decay and periodontal disease. But we continue to learn that controlling oral bacteria may play a role in the prevention of so much more. Recently, I read an article in the Journal of Periodontology that details research which demonstrates that many respiratory diseases may have their beginnings in the aspiration of oral bacteria and other organisms into the lower respiratory tract. Pneumonia can originate from the mouth and inflammation in the mouth seems to exacerbate COPD.

The research messages are becoming clear: To stay healthier, you must reduce the bacterial load in the mouth as much as you can. And flossing and brushing are the best first defense in this effort to control bacterial growth. You owe it to yourself to take the time every day to thoroughly clean your mouth.

Martha (Signature)