Let’s face it: Committing to flossing regularly is a tough task for a lot of people. The most generous surveys say only about half of us floss daily. Others put the figure around 20%. Some folks never floss at all.
Maybe flossing feels awkward or icky. Maybe it doesn’t have the same kind of instant gratification that smooth teeth and minty breath give after brushing. Maybe it’s painful. Maybe braces or dental work make it seem too tricky.
There are lots of reasons why people don’t floss. But there are even more reasons to make flossing a habit, not the least of which is lowering your risk of heart disease.
The Heart of the Matter
Most people have no idea how inextricably connected the mouth is to the heart. Dentists have to take special care with patients who suffer from heart disease, as the connection between heart health and periodontal (gum) health has been well established over the years.
Though dental plaque is nothing like the plaque that can build up your arteries – a sign of heart disease – both both are a sure indicator that the body needs help maintaining its natural waste management systems.
Your body is designed to constantly regenerate itself, but if it gets overwhelmed by lifestyle choices like poor diet and smoking, and underwhelmed by proper maintenance measures like exercise and oral hygiene, things do tend to pile up. Often that happens in those tiny, life-giving arteries that pump oxygen, blood and nutrients around your body, leading to high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attack and possibly even stroke.
Inflammation sets in. That’s one of the things the body does when it is under stress, constantly releasing a pasty substance called C-reactive protein which, like arterial plaque, builds up over time and increases the risk of all the unpleasant situations mentioned above.
Research has shown that flossing can reduce that risk – as well as your risk of other inflammatory conditions, including Alzheimer’s.
Still not persuaded to floss? Well, some recent research points to an excellent alternative.
“Flossing” by “Proxy”
A recent study linked the consistent use of floss or interproximal (“proxy”) brushes to a reduction of coronary heart disease, suggesting it’s not the specific tool that matters so much as the activity of cleaning between the teeth (“interdentally”).
You see, when you brush your teeth you really only get part of the job done. No matter how fancy the brush is, it just can’t get all the way through the narrow gaps between teeth where most of the trouble starts. (In fact, some of the biggest increases of tooth decay we’re seeing involves interproximal caries, or cavities between the teeth.) This is where floss comes in – to scrape away bacteria and debris that your toothbrush misses.
And if you don’t like to floss, a proxy brush can be a fun and effective alternative. These tiny brushes are designed to get between the necks of the teeth. Instead of scraping like floss, the action is more like a miniature bottle brush for your teeth. As you gently slide the brush back and forth, the bristles dislodge food particles, break up biofilm (bacterial colonies) and gently massage your gums.
According to a 2009 research review in Evidence-Based Dentistry, proxy brushes may be even more effective than floss.
In fact, you can make them even more effective by periodically dipping the proxy brush in an herbal rinse such as the Dental Herb Co.’s Under the Gums or Tooth and Gum Tonic as you brush.
You can find proxy brushes in a variety of sizes in virtually any drugstore, but unless you have noticeably large gaps between your teeth, it’s best to start small and adjust sizing to your needs. But be aware, you may still have some spaces too narrow for the brush – your front teeth, in particular. Such spaces usually require flossing. You never want to force the brush between your teeth.
Give proxy brushes a try and let us know what you think in the comments!
Proxy brush image by Sommarflicka