“And have you been flossing regularly?” is perhaps one of the most dreaded questions of every dental check-up, yet it always comes up.

Why do we even have to floss, what’s the point, and what does “regularly” mean anyway? Flossing is time consuming, it can make your gums bleed, and it’s really just not fun. But believe it or not, it’s an integral part of a healthy oral hygiene routine.

To answer a few questions, “regularly” actually means twice a day, and flossing is important because it maintains the teeth that you use every day to eat, talk, and smile. But most Americans floss less than once a day, and most don’t even do it once a week. This is a problem because once your baby teeth fall out, you only have the one set of adult teeth, unless you’re looking forward to dentures. Studies have proven that brushing and flossing your teeth regularly is much more effective than just brushing your teeth two or three times a day. Why is that?

Because even if you brush your teeth three times a day, if you don’t floss, you’re still not getting your teeth clean. The bristles on toothbrushes can’t reach in between teeth, which is where a lot of bacteria can grow, turn into plaque, and get trapped. If you don’t get rid of this bacteria and plaque, it can lead to more serious dental problems down the road:

Gingivitis: A very common gum disease, if you don’t floss regularly, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk for gingivitis, which can later lead to periodontitis. In extreme cases, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss and serious pain. It occurs when plaque builds up around gums, and gums become red and swollen. If your gums bleed when you do floss, it’s probably because you have a mild form of gingivitis. Make sure you talk to your dentist about it on your next visit, but keep up the flossing and brush regularly, as most mild cases are likely to go away on their own.

Cavities: If you don’t floss, you’re leaving extra bacteria to grow and reproduce in your mouth. The more plaque that stays on your teeth, the more susceptible you are to cavities, which occur when plaque builds up and begins to decay teeth. Since only flossing can get rid of hard to reach bacteria between teeth, you’re putting yourself at risk for more unpleasant dentist trips the more you avoid it.

Bad Breath: Have you been feeling like your breath is especially bad lately? Do you notice people stepping away from you when you talk to them, or are you worried that your breath is smelling worse than usual in the mornings? It could be because you haven’t been flossing. The bacteria that you leave behind when you don’t floss can build up, and when it does that, it can start to smell. If it’s just hanging around, the rather unpleasant fact is that it’s decaying in your mouth, and causing your entire mouth to smell. Again, flossing can sometimes be the answer to this particular pesky problem. It will get rid of hard-to-reach plaque and buildup, leaving your mouth cleaner and less smelly. If the problem persists, however, it’s best to talk to a dentist, because you could have a more serious condition.

What about mouthwash? A common question we get from patients is, “If I use mouthwash regularly, do I still have to floss?” The answer is yes. Although mouthwash can kill bacteria in your mouth, it won’t actually remove plaque and buildup found in between your teeth. That’s why it is so important to floss. Mouthwash is another great way to keep your mouth healthy, but you still won’t be getting your teeth clean if you don’t floss too.

Flossing is one of the absolute best ways to keep your teeth clean, healthy, and pearly white. If it seems like too much of a chore, there are plenty of resources out there, like floss picks and special flosses, that can make it an easier task. The bottom line is that you have to do it if you want your teeth to stay healthy for as long as possible. For more tips on flossing properly, check out this handy WikiHow article.

If you have any other questions about flossing or your dental hygiene routine, feel free to call Creason & Weber Family Dentistry at (616) 842-0822 or request an appointment online today!