Flossing: It's the New Yoga

As a planner at Aging and Disability Services—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County—I've had the privilege to work on oral health initiatives with the Washington Dental Service Foundation, which has devised a creative campaign for flossing and oral health: The Mighty Mouth.

Okay, I know, some folks really enjoy flossing. They have developed a routine. They may do it to music, as part of their morning and/or evening routine, with both woven and flavored flosses to make the task even more enjoyable. Like yoga, it makes them feel better all over.

For others, flossing is a chore they avoid. Some people only floss before a dental visit. Dentists will tell you this: The toothbrush doesn't remove six months of tartar 30 minutes before your appointment!

Meet Lou, the Mighty Mouth Tooth Fairy, and see how caring for your oral health really does pay off. This and other videos are available to view at www.themightymouth.org/ads.

When 1,200 Washington residents were asked if they had flossed the day before the survey, six out of ten said they had. But four out of 10 had not, meaning they were missing out on the health and beauty benefits of cleaning around each tooth.

Though it's not talked about very often, flossing can improve your whole body health, like exercise. It's true! Flossing at least once a day significantly reduces the potential for infections, not only in your mouth, but elsewhere in your body.

It's important to clean the debris between your teeth or under your gums. You cannot get your mouth clean just by brushing your teeth. Fragments of food left between the teeth or under the gum line can lead to infections and gum disease. Daily flossing is important to your overall health and wellness.

How do you know if you have gum disease? The signs include swollen and bleeding gums. When this occurs, chronic inflammation can result, and chronic inflammation is linked to systemic problems including diabetes, cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, blockages of blood vessels and stroke.

As a person living with diabetes, I know how important it is to maintain oral health. Gum disease can affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes.

Also, did you know that some studies have shown that adults with gum disease and gingivitis (inflammation of gum tissue) perform worse on memory and other cognitive skills than those with healthier gums and mouths?

What can you do?

  • Stay informed. Good oral health and hygiene is more than just a pretty smile or ease of chewing and eating. Be aware that there is a growing awareness about the connection between oral health and overall health.
  • Avoid grazing. The less time food and drinks spend on your teeth, the better. One of the best things you can do is to drink water (unless your health care professional instructs you otherwise). It's important to drink water after snacking to flush away the sugars and acids in your mouth.
  • Floss every day. There are various types of products, so find one that works best for you.
  • Brush longer, not harder. Dentists recommend brushing teeth two times a day for at least two minutes. Be gentle, as you don't want to irritate the gums. Combine brushing and flossing with other activities, like listening to the morning or evening news, radio program, or music. Remember to clean all the surfaces, and don't forget to brush your tongue.
  • Get an oral check-up at least one a year. Your dentist can recommend and provide preventive care to maintain oral health and detect problems at an early stage.

If you have a dentist and dental coverage, you are indeed fortunate. I have dental coverage through my work; however, throughout my nursing career, this hasn't always been the case. I am grateful that, as I age, I can ensure that my oral health is receiving the same care as my physical health.

It's also important to know that Medicare does not include dental care. It's important to take care of oral health problems before you retire, and to do everything you can to keep your teeth, gums and mouth healthy in later life.

For more information, visit The Mighty Mouth as well as Aging and Disability Services' oral health webpage. Both include tips on finding affordable dental care.

Contributor Mary Pat O'Leary, RN, thanks Nancy J. Hammond and Karen Lewis of the Washington Dental Service Foundation for their input on this article. Read other articles on oral health—Addressing Medications' Impact on Oral Health, Give the Gift of Oral Health, and Mobile Dental Vans and Volunteers Make a Difference—as well as Mary Pat's other article in this issue, "Where There’s Hope, There's Life."