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While most of us brush our teeth on a fairly regular basis, the same can’t be said for the dentist’s other recommendation: flossing. According to a CDC study, just under 32% of Americans surveyed claimed to have flossed every day in the past week. What’s worse, almost a third of them claim that they never floss their teeth. With so many people ignoring this crucial step in tooth care, the question begs to be answered: what happens if you don’t floss?

As it turns out, quite a bit. Read on to find out how important flossing is to your teeth, gums, and the rest of your body.

1. Plaque and Tartar Buildup

Let’s start at the very beginning. Not flossing for a week or two won’t kill you, but your teeth will already be starting to pay the consequences.

Let’s assume that you brush your teeth twice a day as dentists recommend. While that will go a long way toward keeping your teeth healthy, your toothbrush can’t reach all the spots that floss can.

Your teeth have five surfaces that need to be cleaned: the front and back, the chewing surface, and the two sides. Your toothbrush does a great job of cleaning the first three surfaces, but it can’t get the sides in between your teeth. Whether you floss before or after brushing, it’s the only way to get plaque buildup out from those tight spaces.

Plaque is a sticky film made up of bacteria and food residue that clings to the surfaces of your teeth. Not only can it contribute to bad breath, but it can also eat away at your enamel because it’s acidic.

To make matters worse, when plaque is left in place for a long time (like between your teeth for a few weeks) it hardens into tartar. This tartar can trap food particles in hard-to-read spaces, making it even more difficult to keep your teeth clean. You can’t get tartar off at home—a dentist has to use special tools to scrape or break it off.

2. Cavities

What happens when you can’t clean out the trapped particles of food from between your teeth? That’s right—cavities start to pop up.

Having a couple of cavities isn’t the end of the world, but no one looks forward to getting them filled. If your cavities are from not flossing, they’re also likely to be in the hard-to-reach spots between your teeth, making them more difficult to fill.

3. Gingivitis

Your teeth aren’t the only thing that feels the effect of floss avoidance. When you let plaque and bacteria hang out in your mouth, your gums will start to get inflamed, red, and sore.

This condition is known as gingivitis. While many people live their lives with mild gingivitis and are just fine, it doesn’t always stop there.

4. Periodontitis

If you let your gingivitis go without treatment, it can progress into a more serious condition called periodontitis. This advanced form of gum disease can cause extreme pain as bacteria eats away at your gums and the bone that holds your teeth in place.

If periodontitis progresses, your gums may recede to the point that they leave the roots of your teeth exposed. The only way to fix this is through surgery, but if you aren’t otherwise healthy, it may not be an option.

If you notice your gums are swollen and painful, that your mouth aches, or that your teeth are starting to feel loose, visit your dentist right away to start treating your gum disease.

5. Tooth Loss

Cavities, decay, and gum disease make an unstable base for your teeth. Cavities and widespread decay may mean your dentist has to extract your teeth. If you have severe periodontitis, they may even fall out on their own.

If only one or two of your teeth are affected, you might be able to get a dental implant to replace them. Once you experience significant gum disease or tooth loss, though, dentures may be your only option.

6. Complications From Other Diseases

To cap it all off, let’s take a look at how poor mouth health impacts the rest of your body.

As we went over earlier, not flossing your teeth contributes to bacteria buildup and gum disease. Even if you don’t get a mouth infection, this bacteria and inflammation can increase your risk of other conditions like heart disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis. It can also make pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, much worse.

People with type I and II diabetes are already at a much higher risk of dental problems than people without. This is because high blood sugar levels contribute to sugary saliva, which increases the amount of plaque and chance for tooth decay. If you throw a lack of flossing into the mix, you have the perfect recipe for severe gum disease.

Unfortunately, people with diabetes also experience poor wound healing, which makes it harder to recover from gum disease and its complications. This can lead to abscesses, fungal infections, and tooth loss over time.

7. Serious Infections

When your mouth is full of bacteria, tooth decay, and infected gums, it’s left vulnerable to other pathogens. In this type of environment, a cut in your cheek or gums or contamination with other bacteria can easily lead to mouth infections and abscesses.

These sound (and are) annoying and uncomfortable, but they can also be dangerous. Oral infections aren’t contained in your mouth. They can spread throughout the rest of your body, causing serious illness that requires hospitalization. Some dental abscesses can even turn into fatal brain infections.

These serious complications are completely preventable, so save yourself a world of hurt and start flossing your teeth.

What Happens If You Don’t Floss? Let’s Not Find Out!

Even though the answer to “what happens if you don’t floss?” varies from person to person, it’s never good. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re flossing at least once per day—or maybe more if you’re munching on popcorn.

Regular flossing is vital, but it’s only one part of a well-rounded oral health plan. For the rest of your tooth-cleaning needs, contact Meyer Dental today. Our experienced professionals in Highland Ranch will help you come up with a dental plan that keeps your pearly whites shining for years to come.