Recent news stories have spread doubt about the value of dental floss as part of our daily home care regimen. The recent study quoted was based upon a review of research, and has created controversy. Make no mistake, when done properly, flossing works and by that I mean it does what it was meant to do. Does it reverse advanced gum disease (periodontitis)? No, but then it is not supposed to.
Flossing is meant to disturb colonies of bacteria which form in the mouth and adhere to tooth structure. Floss works mechanically, that is to say it must physically touch the bacteria in order to do its job. By disrupting otherwise stable colonies of bacteria, flossing can make it easier to kill the bacteria and thus prevent the inflammation which appears as redness of gums, bleeding and hidden breakdown of the bone which supports our teeth.
Periodontal disease covers a spectrum of change starting with simple red gums which over time progresses to bone lose followed by tooth loss. The earliest phase of periodontal disease is known as gingivitis and flossing is extremely effective when there is little or no evidence of bone loss. As periodontal disease advances and bone is lost, it is known as periodontitis. Since flossing does not go deep below the gums, the value of flossing diminishes as disease progresses. Flossing cannot stop the disease process in places it does not touch.
Dental professionals, primarily general dentists and periodontists treat patients for periodontal disease on a regular basis, typically seeing patients every 3-6 months depending upon the severity of the disease. In between those visits it is left to each of us to care for our own mouths. How can you, the patient effectively treat bacteria when brushing and flossing are hit and miss? You can use chemicals to kill the bacteria which cause the disease. Because our mouths are constantly bathed in saliva and other fluids, it is almost impossible to keep any chemical in the mouth long enough for it to be effective. Regular mouth rinses may help fight gingivitis but are generally ineffective.
An effective way to keep chemicals in contact with tooth surfaces long enough to kill off bacteria is by using Perio Trays prescribed by your dentist. These are FDA approved medical devices which must be custom made using records made by a trained professional. The dentist will recommend bacteria killing chemicals to be placed in the tray. The beauty of this treatment is that it kills bacteria both above the gum where floss reaches and below the gum where neither flossing nor brushing can reach. This is a relatively new concept which has more and more dentists recommending it every year. Killing bacteria in your mouth with chemicals is like using soap to wash your hands; it is much more effective than just scraping the surfaces alone. This can help stop periodontal in its tracks.
If you worry about the health of your teeth and gums; if you are uncertain if brushing and flossing is doing enough to keep periodontal disease away, find a dentist who prescribes Perio Protect Trays and schedule a visit. It is simple, easy to use and takes only minutes a day.