Many people view flossing as an adjunct to tooth bushing. We think of it like a side order, something that perhaps is secondary or not as important - or perhaps optional. We even refer to daily tooth care as "brushing and flossing" while it should be the other way around.
It turns out, that for most Americans, tooth decay is a thing of the past. With fluoride in the water and in toothpaste (as well as fluoride treatments) most people today have very healthy teeth - and lousy gums.
It is the gums that hold the teeth in, and if they go south, the teeth are not far behind. And to correct years of gum neglect often requires expensive and painful periodontal treatments.
Worse yet, many researchers are beginning to believe that periodontal problems are directly related to heart disease, although the research is in its infancy. The theory is simple: having a long-term low-level bacterial infection in your mouth can affect other parts of your body and result in plaque buildup in the arteries near the heart.
So flossing takes on a new urgency.
As I noted in my blog Finding a Good Dentist, my Dentist advised me to "floss more, brush less" and it is good advice. Many people obsess about brushing - trying new toothbrushes (including fancy electric jobs) and new toothpastes that promise to reduce tartar, make your teeth whiter, or your breath smell better.
Toothpaste can polish the teeth, but that's about it. The bristles on your toothbrush may dislodge some of the things between your teeth, but only by accident. In terms of actual tooth cleaning, brushing comes in a distant second to flossing.
But no one gets excited about dental floss, which has not changed basically, in 100 years or more. There is no profit in it - nothing sexy to sell, no gimmicks. So it is not advertised much on TV. Most people get their cues from TV. So they go out any buy the latest electric toothbrush gadget, or worry whether their toothpaste whitens enough. But when it comes to flossing, most folks treat it like rotating the tires on their car. Yea, they should get around to that, someday.
But being healthy often means going against the mainstream of our society, at least as dictated by the television. As I have noted again and again, the normative cues provided by television, if followed, will drive you to an early grave - overeating the worst sort of foods, and then yo-yo dieting to try to lose weight. Yea, you'll have whiter teeth, but you'll have gum disease and chronic heart problems.
Buy lots of dental floss. Use a yard a day. Initially, it will make your gums bleed, but within a week or so, you'll find that your gums no longer bleed. And moreover, your teeth will feel cleaner and healthier. And you'll start to notice when you teeth are dirty - and the first thing you'll reach for is the dental floss, not a toothbrush.
Your heart will thank you for it.