Floss is not Just Another Pretty Name

floss_toothIf I had to give a word of advice to my younger self, it would be to say, “Don’t forget to floss.” In fact, I probably would use a more serious tone and say something like, “Don’t you come out of that bathroom until you are done flossing young lady!”

I know that we have all heard the perils that can befall a person that does not floss. You can have bad breath; cavities; periodontal disease (gum disease); and loss of teeth. That last one? The looming threat of tooth loss? You’d think that would be the clincher; the thing that would have convinced me to floss regularly. Regretfully, it was not. Although I had made many attempts at flossing, I was just not consistent enough. Thankfully I still have all my teeth, and I now floss daily. You are probably wondering so what changed?

What changed is my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It seems that researchers in this field have found that there appears to be a higher incidence of RA with those who have periodontal disease. This finding is not to say everyone with periodontal disease will get rheumatoid arthritis. Nor is it true that healthy gums will prevent you from getting RA. Just the possibility that flossing could have lowered my chances of getting RA, I think, would have been enough to keep me flossing regularly.

When something invades your body like a cold virus, your immune system will try to kick the offending visitor to the curb with certain defence moves that can include extra mucous or tears as well as things like sneezing. There is an invasion of white blood cells that march forward to fight an oncoming infection or invading bacteria. With rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system essentially malfunctions. Problems arise when white blood cells go into overdrive to fight bacteria or viruses and then, for no apparent reason, attack healthy synovial fluid that surrounds your joints, resulting in irreversible damage to surrounding bone and cartilage. (Synovial fluid’s job is to reduce friction between joints and cartilage.)

Sounds scary? Well, it should be. True, doctors do not know why the periodontal link is so strong with people living with rheumatoid arthritis except to say periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease. Once bleeding happens in the body, your immune system fires up to fight the problem with a protective inflammatory process. In the case of periodontal disease, your gums become inflamed. If left in this state with no action or no consistent action, your immune system continually tries to fight the periodontal disease over a long period, until (and no one knows why) your immune system can go after healthy areas, like those surrounding your joints.

When it comes to doing something as easy as flossing in an attempt to lower a risk factor like that, I think it would have been nice to have known about the link between RA and periodontal disease. I had never heard of it until it was too late. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and there is not much I can do about that. You, however, should heed my warning. Flossing takes minutes out of your day and costs next to nothing. The alternative could amount to expensive medication, and doctor visits for the rest of your life.

Sadly, I know now more about rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease than I ever wanted to. But, that’s what happens when you get afflicted with something; you research it to death. I am not a doctor, nor am I a dentist, so why should you listen to me? You shouldn’t. If you have problems with your gums or joints, you should consult a professional. In the end, my advice, based on my experience, is just to say with a serious tone, “Floss, people! Floss daily!”

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