Recently the Associated Press reported that there is very little scientific evidence backing the effectiveness of flossing. However, dentists agree that you absolutely should still floss. Here’s why: More than 500 different types of bacteria are found in dental plaque. Brushing removes most of the plaque from the surface of your teeth. But the plaque that hides in the hard-to-reach places, such as between your teeth and along your gum, can trigger an inflammatory response leading to gum disease (periodontal disease).
What is dental plaque?
Bacterial plaque is the principal cause of cavities and tartar. It is a thin, invisible film to the naked eye, which adheres firmly to the surface of teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque develop by feeding on the residuals of food (especially the ones rich in sugar). These bacteria these bacteria then produce enzymes and acid substances that attack the enamel of the teeth, which gives rise to cavities. Eventually, dental plaque transforms into tartar and then into gum disease, which can degenerate into pyorrhea, a slow and relentless loss of teeth. This is how bacteria destroy the teeth.
Periodontal disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Oral bacteria can migrate to distant sites in the body. Elderly and immuno-compromised patients, such as those suffering from cancer, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, may be especially vulnerable to systemic oral pathogens. Now researchers are asking if oral pathogens can also infect the brain with subsequent neuropathological consequences. Another theory is that pathogenic periodontal bacteria do not “infect” the brain but rather induce a systemic inflammatory response leading to injury of brain tissue.
Periodontal disease is also associated with weight loss and wasting, which might contribute to cognitive decline. Gum disease often results in tooth loss, which often leads to problems with chewing, swallowing and food selection. Individuals also poorly absorb nutrients from food when it is not chewed well. Evidence from several studies indicates deterioration in nutritional status in individuals missing teeth.
One study examined lifestyle factors of more than 100 pairs of identical twins. All of the pairs included one twin who had developed dementia and one who hadn’t. Because identical twins are genetically indistinguishable, the study involved only risk factors that could be modified to help protect against dementia.
Twins who had severe periodontal disease before they were 35 years old had a five-fold increase in risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found. Periodontal disease may be a marker for chronic exposure to disease that provokes an inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation can damage tissue, including the brain, which may contribute to the development of the disease. Based on the association with tooth loss, further investigation of inflammatory load as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is warranted.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every two American adults over the age of 30 has some form of gum disease. Flossing is a low-cost and low-risk way to prevent gum disease. Dentistry is definitely a medical profession that is attempting to decrease the number of patients it sees every year. With that said, despite what the Associated Press found in its research, almost every dentist in America will tell you to floss on. It’s a very easy way to prevent a host of other health problems.