Flossing your teeth daily can save more than just your smile. According to dental experts, flossing is not only important for oral hygiene, but for our hearts and overall good health.

Of course, those already familiar with the power of the string will know that using floss every day helps to remove plaque and break up the bacterial colonies between teeth that can cause diseases. However, the majority of Americans don't floss on a regular basis. In a 2004 survey of 300 dentists, published at MedicalNewsToday.com, approximately 90% of the doctors stated that their patients do not floss daily. Furthermore, 68% of the surveyed said their patients complain that they are simply too time- starved or tired to floss at the end of the day.

Perhaps this is why children are still getting cavities at alarming rates, and three out of every four adults, according to Carolina news channel WCNC, will develop some form of periodontal disease in their lifetimes. Periodontal disease-related illnesses can be fatal; reducing plaque (the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth and gums) lowers the risk of such diseases. Any plaque that isn't completely removed within 24 to 48 hours can combine with other materials and harden into calculus (tartar). Meanwhile, certain types of plaque bacteria create toxins that can, over time, destroy gums and the bones underneath them.

Ultimately, it is likely that non-flossers will develop gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease that causes inflammation and bleeding. As many as 50% of adults suffer from gingivitis, but are mostly unaware of its presence and its long-term significance, stated W. Steven Pray, a professor from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, in last month's U.S. Pharmacist magazine. Periodontitis, which is a more advanced, irreversible stage of gum disease, might be expected too. In this case, toxins eat at the tissues that anchor the teeth in the bone, ultimately leading to tooth loss.

Nevertheless, adding flossing to your routine is not just about taking care of your mouth. In the words of Boston research periodontist Dr Raul Garcia, "Floss or die." Scientists believe there is a strong connection between periodontal disease and heart disease--the number one killer of both men and women in America. According to DentalGentleCare.com, a study found that men with periodontitis have a 72% greater risk of developing coronary disease and men with gingivitis have a 42% increased risk. Apparently, oral bacteria promote the formation of blood clots and fatty deposits.

Gum disease has also been linked to a series of other life-threatening disorders, such as increased risk of respiratory infection. Diabetics with periodontitis reportedly find it particularly difficult to control their blood sugar. Moreover, women with periodontitis are eight times more likely to give birth to premature, low-birth-weight babies. And the U.S. Surgeon General's Office warns cancer patients that they may encounter treatment complications, such as infection, as a result of their periodontal disease.

In most cases, flossing at least once a day could keep you out of the doctor's office, but it is worth noting that heredity plays a role. If your parents lost teeth to gum disease, you are definitely more susceptible. Smoking, clenching or grinding teeth, poor diet and stress are other contributing factors.

The American Dental Association lists warning signs of periodontal disease as bleeding gums, pus appearing when the gums are pressed, changes in the fit of partial dentures, loose permanent teeth, and persistent bad breath-- WebMD Medical News reported that an estimated 60 million Americans have halitosis and spend about $10 billion a year trying to banish the odor, instead of simply brushing and flossing properly. (One of our editors swears by the Sonicare Elite toothbrush with patented sonic technology and high-speed bristle tips that move three times faster than other power toothbrushes.)

By flossing, you can keep the bacteria under control, and hopefully have a healthier mouth and overall well-being. Ideally floss before bed, as the levels of bacteria in the mouth rise during sleep; on average, 18 inches of dental floss should get the job done. A recent Ohio State University-Columbus study claimed that there are no significant differences between flosses, so apparently it doesn't really matter which type of floss you choose--there are dozens on the market, from waxed to flavored, fluoridated to textured. Now, get flossing!

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Posted 03-28-2005 5:08 PM by Doug Casey
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