In a word: Very. In a few words: It’s probably more important than brushing.
Flossing is an essential part of oral health maintenance. Dentists and dental hygienists mention it every time you have a dentist appointment, but most of us continue to forget or ignore this crucial responsibility. Interdental cleaning, such as that experienced while flossing, removes debris and interproximal dental plaque. This is the plaque that collects between teeth. Floss is one of the only methods of reaching and removing these hard-to-clean surfaces. If plaque is allowed to build up, the likelihood of gum disease and tooth decay increases significantly.
If this plaque is not removed, it will harden into tartar—a hard mineral deposit that forms on teeth. This can only be removed through professional cleaning. As soon as tartar forms, brushing and cleaning teeth become more difficult, and gum tissue can become swollen and bleed. This constitutes gingivitis, which can turn into periodontal disease and other serious forms of gum disease. Tartar will also lead to decay and tooth loss.
Remarkably, twenty percent of Americans do not brush their teeth twice a day, meaning the odds of flossing are pretty low. Around a third of American adults over the age of thirty never floss, and less than a third floss on a daily basis. Considering the impact of neglecting to floss, these numbers are staggering.
So, why do so many of us have a hard time with flossing? Our hunch is that the results are not immediately apparent. Initial signs of gum infection are easy to miss—there is no pain or visual signal of gum and tooth distress. More serious dental infections take time to develop; odds are, you will not notice the impact of not flossing until it is too late.
If you haven’t been flossing regularly, now is the time to start. Healthy gums should not bleed, but many of us experience light bleeding on a regular basis. If your gums bleed when you brush, try flossing regularly for two weeks; you may be surprised by the results.