Your whole life, you’ve been told that flossing your teeth will benefit your oral health and decrease the number of dental problems you may experience. But new studies have put flossing in a more important light: doing it regularly can significantly increase your chances of living a longer life. According to a report in the Journal of Aging Research, multiple studies have been done that prove a correlation between longevity and daily flossing. While other lifestyle habits will affect your chances of living a long and productive life, it’s clear that flossing your teeth every day is a simple and effective habit you should develop.
The connection between oral health and the general well-being of people over 50 has only recently begun to be studied. The correlation between brushing and flossing teeth and living a healthy life is a natural one. Many people lose teeth as they age, reducing their ability to chew certain foods. This can influence the foods that they choose, affect their nutritional intake and take a toll on their general health. Oral infections due to poor dental hygiene can also result in cardiovascular disease, an increased danger of dementia, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and even an increased risk of some forms of cancer.
Recent studies have looked at not only the number of remaining teeth in people over 50 but their daily oral hygiene habits, as well. All other things being equal (general age, sex, baseline health, and other factors), those who never flossed had a 30 percent increased risk of death compared to those who flossed their teeth every day. Even those who flossed but never brushed their teeth at bedtime had similar results in their life expectancy. These studies don’t show a definitive cause-and-effect connection between oral hygiene habits and living a long life, but they do show these habits as significant factors in keeping yourself generally healthy, which is one of the major ingredients in staying alive longer.
Flossing your teeth in the right way will remove food particles and growing plaque from spots where your toothbrush can’t reach, generally between your teeth and under the gumline. Plaque is the sticky film that grows on your teeth when they’re not cleaned regularly. When plaque isn’t removed it builds up, eventually hardening into an unattractive yellow substance called tartar. Tartar contains microscopic holes that are the perfect home for bacteria to live in, allowing them to breed and affect your oral and general health. Oral bacteria can cause gum disease, can rot your teeth and can spread throughout your entire body, affecting your internal organs. Removing plaque on a daily basis is a key reason for regularly flossing your teeth.
There are two general types of dental floss: nylon or multifilament or PTFE or monofilament. The nylon type of dental floss comes waxed or unwaxed and is available in a wide range of flavors. In addition to the basic mint flavor of yesterday, some companies have even tried to make flossing more tempting by offering dental floss in a variety of flavors, such as:
While some of these flavors are obviously meant as novelty items, if using cranberry-flavored floss increases the odds that you’ll use it every day, display that package proudly! Anything meant to increase your oral hygiene is a valid choice.
Flavored floss is made up of many filaments, and can tend to shred in your mouth, especially if you have teeth that are arranged very tight together in your mouth. Monofilament floss won’t shred in the same way, but it tends to be a bit more expensive. Both types of floss do an equally good job, so the choice you make is completely one of convenience.
For flossing your teeth away from home, floss picks are a convenient way to keep up your oral hygiene. These plastic items have a toothpick on one end and a length of floss stretched between two short handles on the other. They’re easy to keep in a pocket or purse, making it easier to floss when you’re not at home.
You’ll only get the health benefits from flossing your teeth when you do it correctly. You’ll need about a foot and a half of floss to begin with. Wind the floss around the middle fingers of each hand, leaving about a 2-inch gap in the middle. Pull your hands apart gently until the floss in the middle is taut. Hold the floss on each end with your thumbs and index finger for better control and slide it up and down between two teeth. Once you reach the base of each tooth, curve the floss once way and the other, which will allow it to slip under the gumline and clean plaque from underneath. Slide the floss back and forth in a sawing motion as you pull it up from between the teeth. Once you’ve completely cleaned between two teeth, unwind the floss from one finger while winding the excess to another. This will expose a clean section of floss to use for the space between the next pair of teeth.
If you’re unfamiliar with flossing your teeth you may experience some soreness and minor bleeding the first time or two, but that should clear up after the first week. In addition, if you’re taking any sort of blood thinners you may be more prone to bleeding after flossing. In any case, see your dentist if you continue to see blood after the first week of regular tooth flossing, to eliminate the chance that it could be something more serious.