March 4, 2003
By Lisa Ellis
InteliHealth News Service
INTELIHEALTH — Patient to dentist: Do I really have to floss all my teeth?
Dentist: No, only the ones you want to keep.
It’s an old joke, but now researchers say they have demonstrated it’s also true: People who take care of their teeth are much less likely to lose them.
The conclusion is consistent with other research that shows people who brush and floss are less likely to get gum disease, which can cause tooth loss.
Therefore, it may seem obvious that good oral hygiene helps you to hang onto your teeth. But no previous studies had looked specifically at this question, say researchers from Boston University and the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Mass.
The study was able to examine the long-term effects of brushing, flossing and regular dental visits because it used data covering 26 years. The Department of Veterans Affairs Dental Longitudinal Study enrolled 736 men. Every three years, the men filled out a questionnaire on dental-hygiene habits and were examined to keep track of their dental health.
Researchers looked at the men’s self-described hygiene habits during the first 13 years of the study (four questionnaires) and divided the men into groups based on the responses.
People who consistently (in all four questionnaires) reported brushing at least once a day lost only half as many teeth as the 2 percent of participants who didn’t brush.
Those who brushed consistently, flossed daily and had at least one dental check-up a year lost only one-third as many teeth as those who didn’t have all three healthy habits.
Brushing and dental check-ups alone accounted for most of the reduced risk of tooth loss. Patients who consistently brushed and got check-ups had only 37 percent as much tooth loss as patients without these habits. The rate for people who also flossed was just a bit lower, 33 percent.
Consistent brushing and flossing, without regular check-ups, cut the risk of tooth loss by more than half (56 percent).
All of these numbers were adjusted to reflect certain traits of the study participants that are related to long-term oral health, including age, education, smoking and the number of teeth at the beginning of the study.
The report on tooth loss is published in the March 2003 issue of the Journal of Dental Research.