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June 23, 2013

Yep, you read that right: I’m a dentist and I’m suggesting that you throw away your floss.

When I first advise my patients to stop flossing, they usually look at me like I’m crazy—it's been ingrained in their minds that flossing is essential to their health. Unfortunately, most dentists’ advice around flossing is misguided.

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As you well know, an inordinate amount of food gets stuck between our teeth after meals. Traditionally, we've been taught to use a thin, waxy string to remove this food. Fair enough, since it does the job.

However, when it comes to removing bacteria from deep under your gums, floss is subpar at best. To compound the issue, simple sugars and carbohydrates nourish the bacteria in our mouths. So when there is an excess of candy, soda, or other items with high fructose corn syrup, bacteria can thrive and multiply under your gum line. Why should you be concerned about this? Well, it's the build up of pathogenic (bad) bacteria in your mouth that leads to gum disease, cavities and root canals, and can even be seen as a risk factor for disease throughout your entire body.

In order to have and maintain proper oral (and overall) health, you need to remove these pathogenic bacteria from your mouth. And unfortunately floss does nothing to remove bacteria; it actually only spreads it around like butter on toast.

The Dangers of Pathogenic Bacteria

The pathogenic bacteria grow and multiply in pockets under our gums. A pocket, just as it sounds, is a space between your gum and your tooth. Many of us don’t even realize we have these pockets, but years of plaque have caused our gum lines to pull away from our teeth and form these spaces. These pockets become an ideal breeding ground for pathogenic (anaerobic) bacteria to grow and reproduce since it's a warm, nutrient-rich environment that is without oxygen.

If these pathogenic bacteria grows out of control and enter our blood stream, they can be transported through the body and cause inflammation. Chronic inflammation of any source leads to chronic disease. Failing to take care of your teeth may set you up for a range of serious medical issues such as heart disease, diabetes, preterm birth delivery, alzheimer’s and even inflammatory cancers like breast and pancreatic cancer.

In order to properly remove the bacteria from your pockets and prevent these infections, you need to find out if these bacteria are present. If they are, you have an infection and these germs form a biofilm on your teeth and under your gums. This biofilm cannot be broken up with anti-microbials or even the best home care. You must see a dentist trained to deal with this biofilm and hidden infection.

Once you've had this done, you must maintain this disinfected environment. Don't be fooled, flossing is not the answer! To me, it's common sense. How can you kill an infection with a piece of string, especially if it can't reach the bottom of the pocket where the infection lives? Therefore, you must use an advanced tool such as an oral irrigator, which will flush out the bottom of the pocket.

Why an Oral Irrigator?

I suggest that all my patients, instead of flossing, use an oral water irrigator daily.

An oral irrigator uses a stream of pressurized pulsating water to clean between teeth and below the gum line. Think of it as giving your gums a daily shower. As a result, harmful deep periodontal pocket bacteria that could not otherwise be reached through brushing or flossing, is flushed out and removed. Additional benefits include: helping to control gingivitis, reducing the incidences of gum bleeding, and improving bad breath.

Adding an oral irrigator to your morning or evening routine helps fight against gum disease.

So go ahead, throw away your floss with a healthy smile, knowing that there are better alternatives.

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Reid Winick, DDS
Reid Winick, DDS

Reid Winick, DDS, received his degree from New York University College of Dentistry. He is the owner of Dentistry for Health New York, a green and sustainable dental practice designed as a haven for overall wellness. Their whole-body program of sustainable dentistry treats the patient as a human ecosystem. Patients from all over the world seek out Reid's personalized treatment systems for additional options in dental treatment that does not require painful gum surgery and extractions. Patients report that Reid's sustainable wellness programs have virtually eliminated the need for them to have periodontal surgery and dental implants, and have improved their overall wellness.

Reid also hopes to Revive Primary Care by educating both patients and doctors about the oral-systemic link, and is a national lecturer to medical doctors and other health care providers.