It made the news: It isn’t clear if flossing helps. Is there truth behind it?

Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) made news and caused quite a stir when it removed flossing from its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, citing a lack of evidence.

However, many short-term studies on flossing have shown good results. And based on those results, many dentists still say to floss.

Read on to learn more about the health benefits of flossing and the risks of choosing not to.

Dental health and gum disease in America

More than 75% of Americans have some form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Severe cases of gum disease can harm bone structure – and the damage can’t be fixed.

There’s a link between mouth and body that many people don’t think about. Let’s take a look at just how important your mouth is to your overall health:

  • The American Journal of Preventive Medicine conducted a study of 339,000 people with gum disease and found they all had one of these conditions: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke) or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Mouth problems cost Americans $113.5 billion in 2014, according to the American Dental Association. This came second only to heart conditions.
  • Columbia University College of Dental Medicine studies have shown a link between gum disease and the risk of stroke and heart disease.

So why is flossing important?

As we know, the mouth is full of bacteria: both good and bad. And when bacteria sticks around too long, whether in plaque or tartar, there’s a higher chance of tooth decay and gum disease. However, many dental problems can be avoided with good oral hygiene – including flossing – and a healthy diet.

How flossing gets rid of plaque

Has your dentist talked to you about plaque? It’s a sticky film that coats a tooth – and, when not removed by brushing and flossing, it can harden and form tartar. Bacteria is found in both plaque and tartar, which can harm your gums – causing the soft tissue around your teeth to swell. And when swelling and inflammation doesn’t go away, it can lead to gum disease.

Properly brushing your teeth removes most bacteria, but it can’t reach all of it. Flossing reaches more places in your mouth where a toothbrush can’t go. And the more bacteria you remove, the better.

How often should you floss? Can you floss too much?

Flossing once a day is often enough, but you can floss twice a day if you want to be sure that you’re getting all the food out from between your teeth.

Why does flossing hurt?

There is a caveat to flossing once or twice per day: you need to floss gently. If flossing hurts, it may be a sign that you’re pushing down too hard, which can damage your gums.

Should you use a Waterpik or dental floss?

A Waterpik is a brand of water flosser (also called an oral irrigator) that’s earned a seal of acceptance by the American Dental Association (ADA). It sends a stream of water at your teeth and can get to areas that may be difficult to reach with a toothbrush. It’s a good solution for people who have a hard time using floss or have braces.

However, a Waterpik should not replace floss or brushing – it can be used before or after to remove any lingering food or bacteria, and it can also remove plaque along the gumline. This could help prevent or reduce gingivitis, gum disease and bleeding.

How does diet help maintain dental health?

Your diet affects your mouth, too. Some foods and drinks are better than others. Stay away from ones that are highly acidic, like pop as they are more likely to cause cavities.

How do you get cavities? Cavities form when the sugar from your food turns into an acid. Acid eats away your tooth enamel. This can form a hole (or cavity) in your tooth. But don’t worry! There are also foods that can help fight cavities.

Choose this: nuts, fruits, vegetables, dairy and water
Not that: dried fruit, potato chips, candy (especially sour candy), pop and juice

Benefits of flossing

One thing is clear. It’s good to take care of your teeth – and flossing is an undeniable part of that. By being thorough about your oral hygiene, you’ll save money and improve your total health. Here’s some important things to consider:

  • For people with gum disease and diabetes or heart disease, getting help early can cut yearly medical costs up to 40%, based on a report from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
  • Pregnant women with gum disease can reduce their risk of an early birth by 84% when treated early, according to a study from the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • According to that same study from the University of Pennsylvania, people who get treatment for gum disease are less likely to need treatment for diabetes and heart disease.

So what should you do?

Good brushing and flossing help prevent cavities and gum disease. And this is a big benefit to your overall health. Talk to your dentist, and ask what's best for your oral health routine.

Need help finding your dentist? Search our dental networks to see if your dentist is in-network, or find a dental plan that works for you. We’re here to help.