February 1, 2001
Dear Dr. Mady: For years we have been hearing that regular flossing helps prevent cavities and gum disease, but lately people are saying that it prevents heart disease and other health problems. Is this true? - A concerned heart patient.
Dear concerned heart patient: If you already have heart disease, flossing will probably not reverse anything but doing it certainly will not make the situation any worse. Diet, exercise and a new lifestyle prescribed by your physician is the best medication.
If you want me to answer the question, the answer is, "most likely". Your health can and will certainly benefit from regular flossing of your teeth. It is a reasonably inexpensive and painless way of contributing to your complete health.
Flossing only takes a few minutes of each day and can even be performed simultaneously with other daily routines like watching television.
North Americans are extremely lazy when it comes to flossing their teeth. They think that if they can't see the plaque in between teeth and under the gums that it does not exist.
This is absolutely false and is the main reason (along with laziness) that approximately 75% of adults do not regularly perform this essential act of oral hygiene!
During the past several years, researchers and investigators have accumulated evidence that focuses the blame on gum (periodontal) disease for a number of systemic health problems. The most popular of these is heart disease.
Many scientists now even believe that uncontrolled plaque build up and gum disease can make diabetes and lung problems worse and may even be a cause of premature births in pregnant women.
To make it basically understandable, we must realize that any inflammation in the gums that is a result of plaque and tartar (calculus) buildup has the potential to cause bleeding, especially during brushing. This will also eventually lead to bone loss beneath the gums.
There are many bacteria in the mouth and some do not inhabit the rest of our bodies. When bleeding occurs in the mouth (no matter what the cause) some of these bacteria, both friendly and non-friendly, can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of our body via the blood. If the bacteria are not welcomed, for example by our heart, then the problems begin.
I personally feel that there has not yet been enough research to establish an exact cause-and-effect relationship between gum disease from not flossing (and brushing properly) and systemic problems like cardiovascular disease. We also have to realize that much of what transpires with our overall health is genetically inherited from our ancestors. This can include both the oral and systemic situations, but we can all fight genetics to a certain degree, so to speak.
Yes it is possible for individuals who have more periodontal disease to have more heart attacks, strokes and the like, but these may be totally unrelated to their gum disease. It may merely be by chance that they are frequently experiencing more of the complications. However if more and more research is done I feel the arrow will point more towards a definite cause as we are questioning it here.
It really is a "no-brainer". Maintain your gum health by flossing whether you are predisposed to other health problems or not. In the worst-case scenario you will have achieved healthy gums and better breath for all your effort. This alone is extremely valuable. You will save future tooth breakdown, loss, need for surgery and significant eventual expenses.
For most people, the disease is easy to prevent. Just acknowledge the basic requirements of dental health alone and you are ahead of the game. Brush your teeth at least twice daily, floss once (carefully) and visit your dentist for regular checkups and oral hygiene education.
Every mouth is different in some ways and similar in others, and because flossing is so technique-sensitive, don't be shy to ask your dentist or hygienist anytime about proper methods of getting the job done properly.
If gum disease is something that you know you are predisposed to, give it extra special attention and you will see that with diligence your gum disease can usually be controlled.
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5