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Periodontal disease – diseases related to the surroundings of the tooth and gums – are a major impediment to oral health worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 15-20% of middle-aged adults (35-44 years) have severe periodontal disease. Unlike a cavity or other forms of tooth injury which provide localized pain and symptoms, periodontal disease often develops without awareness of the patient. Advanced stages lead to tooth loss, gingivitis, and even destruction of the jawbone.
This disease develops at the location where the gums meet the tooth, known as the dentogingival junction. Normally this is a tight barrier that prevents food particles and bacteria from infiltrating and keeps the tooth secure in the gums. Accumulation of bacteria and food particles may lead to inflammation and eventually infiltration into the barrier, compromising its function. When food particles are allowed to remain here they provide an optimal environment for the accumulation and proliferation of bacteria.
Flossing is one of the most well known methods for clearing this area to prevent the overgrowth of bacteria. There has been recent controversy whether scientific research supports the health benefits of flossing. But the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Centers for Disease Control’s division of Oral Health still strongly recommend flossing. In a 2016 statement, the ADA stated:
“Flossing is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. Professional cleaning, tooth brushing, and cleaning between teeth (flossing and the use of other tools such as interdental brushes) have been shown to disrupt and remove plaque…”
A basic understanding of tooth and gum anatomy allows one to understand the importance of flossing. Maintain a consistent oral health routine, including flossing, to keep this stronghold against disease.