I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it is to get patients to floss regularly. Many people only floss when they have food in their teeth. Others attempt flossing occasionally and give up because their gums bleed when they do it. I’m going to give you some information on why you should floss.
So why do we need healthy gums?
This image shows the general difference between healthy and unhealthy gums. If you look at the healthy side, you will notice that the color is a light pink and attaches to the whole root surface (the roots are the two “leg”-looking portions). It also has a good amount of bone underneath it. We need the bone that we have in our mouth to hold our teeth in. And if we lost that bone, there is a significant chance of losing the teeth. And what happens when we lose teeth? We can’t eat what we want to eat, or we pay a large sum of money to get things fixed.
Losing your teeth is not the only thing that needs to be of concern though. Look at the picture again; there are blood vessels in the gums. Did you know that an untreated gum infection can become systemic? Unfortunately, people have died from unhealthy gums. This is because of the bacteria that make their way through unhealthy gums and enter your bloodstream. From there, they can attack other parts of your body, including the heart.
But how does bacteria get through your unhealthy gums and not the healthy kind?
It is the same reason that your gums bleed when you don’t take good care of them. Ulcers.
You might be thinking that there’s no way that you could have ulcers in your mouth. You may not see them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. The above photo on the left is unhealthy gums and the one on the right is healthy. This is what your gums look like under a microscope. Ulcerations happen in the gums when the bacteria essentially eat away at it. This causes certain tissues to be exposed to your mouth’s environment. When you then use floss, you irritate those exposed areas, your gums get angry, and they start to bleed.
But don’t let that stop you from flossing!
The more you floss, the less you will bleed. The reason is that when you floss more often, you are scraping out the bacteria that is attacking your gums and helping your gums to toughen up and get stronger. Flossing reduces the stress of the bacteria on the gums and they start to create small scars, which are thicker and tougher than what was there before. It may seem like nothing is changing, but eventually the bleeding stops and when you floss, you will notice how strong your gums feel. They should be tight, not soft and moveable.
Here is another quick reason to keep your gums healthy: cavities. Unhealthy gums start to detach from your teeth- just take a look at the first picture again. You can see that the inflamed gums have separated from the roots. Some people may think that this is great, that picture looks like it will make flossing easier. Wrong. The more the gums separate from the root, the harder it is to reach down to the bottom of that pocket (a pocket is what we call it when you have deep spaces around your tooth).
A good analogy would be like wearing short vs tall boots. Say you have an itch in the short boots. You can just reach down and scratch your ankle without difficulty. Now say you have tall boots on. You have to use your whole arm to reach your ankle, and at that point, your arm is too big to get all the way there!
With deeper pockets, bacteria has the ability to hide in the bottom of it, or attach to the root surface. There is less protection on the roots than there is on the crown (the white part of the tooth that you can see that you may think of when you think of a tooth). The bacteria that live in the pockets are hardy. They deal with the lack of oxygen and multiply. With so much bacteria needing food, they eat the root surface and begin to create a hole: the cavity.
A healthy mouth is easier to maintain than to fight to bring back to a healthy state. Your dental hygienist works hard to prevent all of these things from happening, but it’s up to you to take care of yourself when you’re not in the dental chair.
To learn about types of floss and flossing methods, click here.