Hamilton: Dental flossing, to rot or not
August 25, 2016
The people of the British Isles are notorious for having bad teeth, so it is little wonder that the British tabloid press seized on a recent story that dental flossing, of which the Brits have historically done precious little, is a waste of time. Au contraire. Dental flossing is a potent weapon against the build-up of dental plaque.
The mischief in the recent story against flossing stems from a fundamental misunderstanding between the difference between "removing" dental plaque and "preventing" the build-up of the plaque that slowly accretes between the teeth and gums. True, dental flossing is not particularly effective in "removing" dental plaque. That is best done by Dental Hygienists. But dental flossing is highly effective in "preventing" the formation of dental plaque in the first place.
It is impossible to prevent bacteria left over from food or even from kissing from invading the oral cavity. Those bacteria, like all bacteria, are living organisms that seek to reproduce themselves and combine with other bacteria. Even more distasteful, no pun intended, these bacteria produce their own waste material, meaning they are depositing their fecal matter in your mouth. That accounts for that terrible taste. Yuk!
If allowed to accumulate between the teeth and, if allowed to accumulate along the sides of the teeth, the bacteria start to attach to each other (sort of like roof trusses) and they form dental plaque. The most effective way to interrupt the plaque-building process is to run a piece of dental floss between the teeth, splitting the bacteria apart and pushing the bacteria out into the open where they can be removed by the use of a tooth brush, either manual or electronic.
One need not be a dentist or a dental hygienist to understand this phenomenon. All you need are teeth and gums. If you are not flossing your teeth and applying the other standard dental disease prevention techniques on a daily basis, you will see blood in your wash basin, the hallmark of periodontal infection. Unfortunately, the body's natural response to bacterial toxins breaks down the bones and tissue that support the teeth, resulting in tooth loss. Even worse, the bacteria from periodontal infection can adversely affect the heart and lungs.
All that should be motivation enough for people who still have their teeth to rinse and brush after every meal and to floss between their teeth before bedtime. But here are some additional motivations: The bright smiles of the most attractive movie and TV personalities. Or, watching the many TV advertisements for adhesives to glue false teeth into the oral cavity. Or, by looking at the hole in your bank balance resulting from expensive dental repairs that could have been prevented by daily flossing and brushing.
Have a lot of studies been done to prove that flossing is worth the time and effort? No. But the efficacy of dental flossing has been so evident for so long, it would be akin to jumping off the roof to see if gravity actually exists. Moreover, even fewer studies claim flossing is a wasted effort. So, ultimately, it is up to the individual to stop the build-up of bacterial fecal matter in the mouth, or not.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the Army Language School, the George Washington University, the Infantry School, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.