A recent study found that just over one-third of American adults don’t use dental floss, despite flossing’s role in preventing plaque accumulation and gum disease. The release of the study’s findings preceded new research that further connects periodontal disease to pancreatic cancer, providing another reason to reconsider flossing if you don’t already.

woman using floss to clean between her teeth

The Flossing Figures

The flossing study was based on an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and focused on more than 9,000 adults age 30 and over. According to a CNN report, results included:

  • 32 percent don’t floss at all
  • 37 percent floss less than daily
  • 30 percent said they flossed at least once within the past week

Men were more likely to not floss than women, and older adults were less likely to floss than those between the ages of 30 and 44.

Why Dental Floss is Boss

The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day as part of a good dental hygiene routine that includes brushing at least twice daily and regular checkups with your dentist. There are areas between the teeth that toothbrushes cannot reach, which can lead to a buildup of plaque.

Flossing removes the tiny particles that become lodged in these spaces and contribute to plaque. Without flossing, this plaque eventually becomes tartar, which contributes to tooth decay and gum disease.

A 2011 study compared the effects of flossing in addition to brushing with brushing alone. Researchers found that flossing and brushing showed a “statistically significant benefit” in reducing gingivitis, a common gum inflammation that can lead to more severe periodontal disease. It’s important to note that this particular study did not focus on flossing’s effects on tooth decay and cavities.

Flossing, Gum Disease and Your Health

The benefits of flossing extend beyond your oral health. Because flossing helps prevent gum disease, it can lessen the threat of systemic health problems.

Periodontal disease has been connected with a heightened risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, among other ailments. One recent study identified two types of oral bacteria often present in gum disease that were also prevalent in those with pancreatic cancer; previous research found that those with certain oral bacteria common in periodontal disease face an increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

If a link between periodontal disease and cancer sounds scary, the research more hopefully suggests that a dental checkup and gum assessment could provide early detection of pancreatic cancer.

Beyond Floss: Preventing and Treating Gum Disease

Flossing is a key component of good dental health, but there are additional preventive measures you can take that complement flossing, brushing and regular cleanings provided by your dentist. One of the most effective is dental sealants, which cover the chewing surfaces of the teeth and protect them from plaque accumulation and decay.

If you notice signs of periodontal disease—swollen or tender gums, receding gumline, gums that bleed regularly, chronic bad breath—it’s important to see your dentist. Gum disease treatments vary depending on how advanced the condition is, but it’s best to treat periodontal disease in its earliest stages before its impacts extend beyond your oral health.

The dentists at Smile Columbia Dentistry believe that a healthy smile is a beautiful smile, and our entire team is dedicated to providing you with a comfortable, satisfying experience. If you live in Columbia, SC, and you’re seeking compassionate, personalized dental care, please call us today at (803) 781-9090 to schedule your appointment.