This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Floss Your Teeth
It's time to get in between your teeth... or else.
When is the last time you flossed? Chances are high it wasn’t this morning, considering only four of 10 Americans floss at least once a day, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the American Dental Association. And though your flossing frequency may not seem like a big deal, all that extra bacteria lurking in those hard-to-reach corners of your mouth can wreak some very serious havoc on the rest of your body. From heart disease to Alzheimer’s, these are the serious impacts that your aversion to flossing can have on your body.
Bacteria grows in the areas that you can’t reach with a toothbrush.
Neglect your flossing routine for even just a few days and it’s likely that you’ll suffer from bad breath and tooth sensitivity. That’s because, according to Dr. Greg Grobmyer, DDS, a dentist with Authority Dental, not flossing your teeth can cause the bacteria in your mouth to remain in those areas that your toothbrush can’t reach.
“Brushing your teeth cleans the tops and sides of your teeth, but it can’t do anything about the spaces between where food gets stuck,” explains Grobmyer. “Flossing is the only way to remove bacteria and food from these tight spaces. Bacteria and food left in these areas can cause bad breath, tooth decay, bone loss, and inflammation in the form of gum disease.”
Your body triggers an immune response to your gums.
When plaque, which is a build-up of bacteria, forms along your teeth and gums, the toxins that are released from this accumulation triggers an immune response from your body, explains dentist Dr. Agustin Drubi, DMD, owner of Drubi Orthodontics.
“The body responds to [plaque] by creating an immune response in the area, sending immune cells to the gums around the teeth to fight the bacteria,” says Drubi. “This increase in blood flow and cells in the area is what causes gums to get red and inflamed. This is the reason gums can bleed when brushed or flossed after bacteria has accumulated.”
Bacteria enters your body’s bloodstream.
The problem with bleeding gums, according to Garth Graham, a cardiologist and former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is that this transfer of blood from your mouth to other areas of your body can seriously affect your overall health.
“Studies continue on this issue, but many have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels,” explains Graham.
That bacteria can infect your heart.
C-reactive protein counts have become an effective way for doctors to predict heart disease. A higher number of these proteins mean there is some level of inflammation in the blood vessels. And since the body’s blood vessels include arteries, which carry blood from your heart to your body’s organs, not flossing can indeed have a negative impact on your heart.
“Oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream through inflamed tissues and settle on heart valves, creating bacterial plaques that lead to heart disease and heart attacks, strokes, and more,” Grobmyer explains.
In fact, authors of a 2010 review published in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology evaluated several studies concerning the link between cardiovascular disease and poor dental hygiene and found that gum disease increased a person’s risk of heart disease by 20 percent.
It can also spread to your lungs, causing pneumonia.
Especially for those with weakened immune systems, oral bacteria has the ability to spread with ease, says Dr. Shahrooz Yazdani of Yazdani Family Dentistry. “In those with weakened immune systems, these infections could potentially spread to other parts of the body,” he said. Grobmyer adds: “Bacteria from the mouth can also be aspirated, or inhaled, into the lungs, leading to a form of pneumonia.”
This correlation between oral hygiene and pneumonia, laid out by the Yale Daily News, was first discovered in 2011 when the Yale University School of Medicine presented a study at the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s annual meeting in Boston. “Most of the bacterial organisms that cause infections are neighbors of the oral floor,” said Sheldon Campbell, a professor of microbiology at the Yale School of Medicine. “It’s likely that oral microbodies probably impact the development of certain diseases.”
And it has the potential to cause Alzheimer’s, too.
In more recent studies, gum disease has been linked to a surprising number of Alzheimer’s cases. In fact, one 2019 study published in the journal Science Advances examined the brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer’s patients and found that it contained Porphyromonas gingivalis, one of the primary pathogens responsible for gum disease. In essence, the study showed that the toxic enzymes produced by this pathogen, called gingipains, detrimentally affected the proteins involved in basic brain function.
Toxins begin eating away at your teeth.
If you haven’t flossed in quite some time, it’s highly probable that you’re experiencing periodontal disease. This disease occurs when the toxins inside of your mouth begin to slowly eat away at the bone and tissue around the teeth. “As bone keeps resorbing [bacteria], teeth lose support and can become mobile, eventually being lost,” explains Drubi. “This is the most common reason people lose teeth when adults.”
Your joints become inflamed.
And, according to a 2012 study presented at the European Congress of Rheumatology in Berlin, tooth loss may actually predict rheumatoid arthritis and its severity. The study found that of the 636 patients examined, those considered to be at the highest risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis had fewer teeth—10 or less, to be exact—while the rest of the subjects had most of their teeth intact. According to Dr. Christopher Rouse of Flatrock Family Dentistry, this is because the bacteria in your bloodstream from lack of flossing can cause inflammatory symptoms in joints. And for more ways to have your best teeth, here are 20 Secrets for Whiter Teeth After 40.
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