Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Adding flossing to your hygiene regimen can add 10 years to your life

Sometimes senior Kelsey Stein flosses three times a day.

"I floss twice a day; once at night before I go to bed and then in the morning when I wake up," Stein said. "Sometimes I floss in between, too, if I need to."

Stein's habit of flossing often will not only benefit her oral health, but can also benefit her body's overall health. In fact, that little piece of string that Stein keeps in her purse has the ability to add up to 10 years to her life span.

Flossing has its dental benefits preventing gingivitis and other gum diseases, but a recent study published in "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association" looked at the link between the mouth and chronic diseases.

Faith Yingling, director of Wellness, said the study found people with higher blood levels of specific disease-causing bacteria in the mouth were more likely to experience hardening of the arteries in the carotid artery in the neck.

"Atherosclerosis, also called 'hardening of the arteries,' develops when deposits of fats and other substances in your blood begin to stick to the sides of your arteries. These deposits, called plaques, can build up and narrow your arteries, clogging them like a plugged-up drain," Yingling said. "If these plaques ever block theblood flow completely, you could have a heart attack or stroke, depending on the location of the blockage."

Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream through the gums and this has been found among artery plaque, which directly contributes to arterial blockage.

Lee Meserve, a biology professor and pre-dentistry adviser at the University, said when it comes to the spaces between the teeth where plaque hides, brushing vigorously won't be enough to remove it.

"Plaque is essentially a collection of microorganisms that like it where it's dark and moist," Meserve said. "Some of those mircoorganisms could potentially spread to the rest of the body."

When people floss they are removing that plaque and harmful bacteria from between the teeth, which in turn helps prevent gum inflammation -- another way in which mouth infections can affect the rest of the body.

"One of the body's natural responses to infection is inflammation (swelling)," Yingling said. "It's possible that as these oral bacteria travel through your body, they trigger a similar response, causing the blood cells to swell. This swelling could then narrow an artery and increase the risk of clots."

Health professionals agree on the benefits of flossing, but disagree when it comes to how many years flossing can add to a person's life span.

Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, believes that flossing ranks in the top five healthy habits for a long life and believes it can add up to 6.4 years to a person's life. But Dr. Thomas Perls, associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, allots a year and a half addition to a life span for daily flossing.

No matter how many years flossing can add to a person's life, it can still help prevent heart disease while also preventing bad breath moments.

"[Flossing] can also help prevent cavities, gingivitis, and tooth loss," Yingling said. "In the short-term, flossing can help reduce tartar build-up, remove food particles and plaque, and improve the smell of breath."

Floss Facts:

The proper way to floss according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association (provided by Dr. Faith Yingling):

  • Wind 18" of floss around middle fingers of each hand. Pinch floss between thumbs and index fingers, leaving a 1"- 2" length in between. Use thumbs to direct floss between upper teeth.
  • Keep a 1" - 2" length of floss taut between fingers. Use index fingers to guide floss between contacts of the lower teeth.
  • Gently guide floss between the teeth by using a zig-zag motion. Do not snap floss between your teeth. Contour floss around the side of the tooth.

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