Flossing and Aging: Can Flossing Really Increase Life Expectancy and Improve Health?

Flossing is crucial in maintaining oral health, which is closely linked to overall well-being and can potentially increase life expectancy. By preventing gum disease and reducing the risk of related health issues like heart disease and diabetes, regular flossing can contribute to a healthier, longer life.

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Flossing and Aging: Can Flossing Really Increase Life Expectancy and Improve Health?
6 Min Read May 28th, 2024

Could a simple technique developed eons ago and formalized a few hundred years back add years to your life? Growing scientific evidence supports the benefits of dental flossing for healthy aging and increasing life expectancy.

In the first-ever oral health report in 2000, "Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General," the Surgeon General stated that the "mouth is the center of vital tissues and functions that are critical to total health and well-being across the lifespan." Simply put, everything in the body is connected, so maintaining healthy gums and teeth is essential for overall health.

Virginia G. Carrillo, MEd, BSDH, RDH, a dental hygienist at The University of Texas Health Science Center's School of Dentistry, shared important information for those looking to improve their oral health next year by pledging to floss regularly.

Flossing might be uncomfortable at first, especially if the gums are tender due to inflammation or if someone is not in the habit of flossing," but taking the step to commit to it regularly can drastically enhance the health of teeth, gums, and overall health.

What do your teeth have to do with the rest of your body? Understanding this connection offers insights into how the various systems of your body work together.

What is Flossing? Do You Really Know?

If you have been to a dentist, they probably have told you to floss; perhaps they have shown you how to floss multiple times. Flossing is a dental hygiene practice involving using a thin piece of string, known as dental floss, to remove food particles and plaque between your teeth and under the gumline. This area is often hard to reach with a toothbrush alone, making flossing an essential part of maintaining oral health.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends flossing at least once daily to help prevent cavities and gum disease. According to the ADA, flossing helps to remove plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that can lead to tooth decay and gum inflammation if not properly managed.

A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that individuals who floss regularly have lower rates of gum disease and tooth loss than those who don't. This underscores the importance of flossing in your daily routine.

Flossing is simple: You take about 18 inches of floss, wrap most of it around your middle fingers, and hold the remaining floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Gently guide the floss between your teeth using a rubbing motion. When it reaches the gumline, curve it into a C shape against one tooth, sliding it into the space between the gum and the tooth. Repeat this process for each tooth.

Understanding and practicing proper flossing techniques can significantly improve overall dental health and, according to growing evidence, may even enhance life expectancy.

The Benefits of Flossing for Aging

The benefits of flossing include lengthening your life and reducing health events that may put you at a higher risk of needing long-term care. Poor oral hygiene is associated with several chronic and deadly diseases. Fortunately, adopting a daily flossing practice, brushing and rinsing, can increase your chances of living to an advanced age.

Dental health is closely linked to overall physical health, well-being, and quality of life. Poor oral health can significantly impact how a person acts and lives. For instance, someone with unattractive teeth or ill-fitting dentures may feel self-conscious about their appearance, leading to feelings of social avoidance and low self-esteem. They might avoid smiling or interacting with others, further diminishing their quality of life.

Additionally, dental pain can severely affect daily activities. Imagine not being able to eat or sleep properly due to tooth pain. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and chronic fatigue, further impacting overall health and well-being. Maintaining good oral health is essential not just for a healthy body but also for a happy and fulfilling life.

The Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health

Here are six specific, science-backed benefits of flossing that explain why this simple practice is so crucial to your health and longevity.

1. May Improve Cardiovascular Health 

Skipping the dental floss could have consequences for your health. Scientists have discovered a weak association between elevated cholesterol levels and periodontal disease, which often develops due to poor oral hygiene.

Certain bacteria that cause periodontal disease—such as Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis—attack more than your oral tissue. They can enter your bloodstream through cuts in your gums, triggering an inflammatory response that affects your circulatory system. These bacteria also damage the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels, further increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

A 2024 meta-analysis of several studies emphasized the strong link between poor oral hygiene and cardiovascular disease risk. A few minutes of flossing might be well worth it for the protective effects on your ticker.

2. May Lower Stroke Risk 

Strokes occur when blood vessels in the brain become blocked or rupture. Poor oral hygiene damages endothelial cells, increasing the risk of one of these events. Furthermore, chronic inflammation within the mouth releases inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, and elevated levels of C-reactive protein may decrease the chances of a positive outcome and full recovery.

3. May Prevent Dementia 

Inflammation may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, one of the major reasons you may need long-term care in the future. One recent observational study published in Neurology found an association between gum disease and hippocampus shrinkage. 

This region of the brain plays a crucial role in neurogenesis—the formation of new neurons. Earlier studies have also found associations between oral bacteria and dementia development, though more in-depth research is necessary.

4. May Boost Immunity 

Daily toothbrushing is effective in warding off hospital-acquired pneumonia because of its effect on the immune system. Throughout the day, biofilms accumulate on your teeth, which provide rich breeding grounds for bacteria. These germs can enter your bloodstream through your mouth and trigger an immune response. Regular oral hygiene—including brushing and flossing—removes this biofilm and reduces your chances of getting sick.

5. May Benefit Chronic Conditions

Arthritis affects millions of Americans, and the rheumatoid variety (RA) doesn't only strike during your golden years — it affects people of all ages, including children. Recent studies show an association between periodontal disease and RA development. Researchers are now conducting clinical trials to assess whether early intervention in periodontal disease can slow disease progression.

6. May Impact Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Millions of Americans either live with or are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, and many remain blissfully unaware of the dangers. However, flossing may be one of your best preventatives.

In one recent study, scientists found that flossing lowered periodontal disease risk and improved glycemic control, but more frequent dental visits only decreased the risk of gum disease. Something about the benefits of flossing is that it helps you manage your blood sugar more effectively, even if the exact mechanism remains elusive for now.

How and When to Floss Your Teeth 

Floss your teeth in the evening after you brush and before you finish rinsing. If you only have time for one thing, brush. Brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste remains your best line of defense in the battle for better oral health.

However, even if you brush, only flossing can remove plaque and debris from between your teeth. To make the biggest impact on your longevity, ensure you do so at night after eating but before bedtime. Saliva production slows during sleep, allowing bacteria to proliferate. Flossing can ensure about 40% of the surface of each tooth gets clean, and refraining from doing so can increase the risk of cavities. 

Finding the Right Type of Dental Floss

Given the impressive benefits, why do so many people skip flossing? Time is one factor, but pain is often the biggest detractor. Therefore, seek ways to make flossing more comfortable.

One quick switch is to opt for tape-style floss rather than string. Many people find this style more comfortable on delicate tissues. Flossing sticks with attached handles can help those with arthritis who struggle to manipulate floss with their fingers, and water flossers are a gentle option that eliminates string.

Tips for Teaching Kids to Floss

Your children may already be adults, but your grandkids should start getting into the habit of flossing. Healthy attitudes toward flossing begin young, so use age-appropriate language to explain the benefits of flossing and make it a game. Invent a song and use positive reinforcement to congratulate your little one for taking care of their oral hygiene before bed.

When should your child start flossing? Most experts recommend beginning at 3 years of age. By age 10, they should feel confident enough to do so independently.

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About the Author

Beth Rush writes about various health and wellness topics, helping readers learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices and better enjoy their lives.

LTC News Contributor Beth Rush

Beth Rush

Contributor since August 9th, 2023

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