Adding this Hygiene Habit to Your Daily Routine Could Add Years to Your Lifespan

Almost 70 percent of people want to live to 79 to 100 years old, according to the Pew Research Center. In other words, longevity is the thing! And that makes sense. More time with loved ones? Holding onto life's experiences a little longer? It sounds nice.

If you're interested in longevity, regularly taking vitamin D and gardening are a couple of practices that can help—and they aren’t the only ones. Dr. Imam, an allergy and asthma doctor, recently shared a particular daily action that can add years to your life.

Even more interesting, it’s a habit you probably wouldn’t expect.

The Hygiene Habit That Can Improve Longevity

The habit we’re talking about is (drumroll) flossing.

“Flossing and proper oral hygiene impacts our overall health,” says Dr. Fatima Khan, DMD, a dentist and co-founder of Riven Oral Care. When it comes to your oral health, flossing reduces the risk of cavities, gum inflammation, soreness and redness, she continues. It also prevents gingivitis, which can lead to periodontal disease.

Related: If Your Gums Bleed Every Time You Floss, Here’s What Dentists Want You to Know

And those oral conditions interact with other parts of your body and health, which affects your longevity and quality of life. “Flossing breaks down the bacteria colonies from teeth and gums,” Dr. Khan explains. “We cannot sectionalize the oral cavity because it works synergistically with other organs in the body.”

How Not Flossing Can Affect Health Outcomes Long-Term


Inflammation is a major piece of this puzzle. “Flossing limits inflammation by removing the bad bacteria that can lead to inflammation by going through the bloodstream,” explains Dr. Neil Paulvin, DO, a longevity expert. And inflammation is a key factor in serious diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases and more.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s

As far as brain health, dementia and Alzheimer’s are, unfortunately, a risk. “[Flossing] limits risk of dementia, because the plaque and bad bacteria is thought to lead to inflammation and damage of mitochondria, and the microglia in the brain that may predispose you to Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Paulvin continues.

Dr. Khan adds that P. gingivalis is one of the periodontal pathogens linked with Alzheimer’s disease. It can cause your gums to become inflamed, she explains, which triggers your immune system to release inflammatory molecules and bacteria that get to the brain through your bloodstream. “This causes changes to the brain cells that are meant to defend your brain from amyloid plaque and increases risk for Alzheimer’s,” she says.

Unfortunately, numbers show that dementia is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., cutting a person’s average life expectancy by nine years. With Alzheimer’s, this could be because the loss of brain function (that comes with a severe case) can lead to dehydration, malnutrition or infection, which may result in death.

Gastrointestinal problems

Another part of the body that’s impacted? Your gut. Some bacteria from your mouth can’t be killed by your stomach acid. When it goes to the intestines and colon, it can cause inflammation and dysbiosis of the gut, which can lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). A 2022 study in BMC Gastroenterology notes that life expectancy in people with IBD has increased, but is still shorter than in people without IBD.

Periodontal disease

Another unfortunate possibility after not flossing is periodontal disease, AKA gum disease. Dr. Khan says it’s an inflammatory infection that affects the gums and bones supporting and surrounding your teeth.

“The bacteria associated with periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body, leading to various health problems,” Dr. Khan says.

Cardiovascular concerns

People with periodontal disease are two to three times more likely to have a stroke, heart attack or other serious cardiovascular problem.

But how can flossing—something seemingly so unrelated—help lessen that risk? “Flossing limits the amount of bacteria in your system, which lowers the risk of heart disease,” Dr. Paulvin explains. “Floss also limits inflammation, which limits heart disease.”

Dr. Khan notes the two-way, cyclical harm that happens with diabetes—a risk factor for cardiovascular disease—and periodontal disease. “The risk of periodontitis is higher amongst individuals whose blood sugar levels are not well-controlled,” she says. “Also, periodontal pathogens will cause your gums to get inflamed, and your immune system will fight back by releasing inflammatory molecules, which can cause insulin resistance. This can worsen diabetes by increasing blood sugar levels.”

Is this to say that not flossing means you’ll automatically get heart disease or dementia? No. It’s just a reminder that flossing (and oral hygiene in general) can impact other parts of your health long-term.

How to Floss the Right Way

Flossing is more than just putting a piece of string in between your teeth (though if you thought that was it, you’re not alone). It’s a bit more complicated, but still fairly simple.

“When you floss, you must curve the floss into a C shape around the base of the tooth and gently move it back and forth,” Dr. Khan explains.

She also recommends using traditional floss instead of floss picks if possible, noting it can remove larger particles and allows for a clean segment of floss between each pair of teeth.

Related: Dentists Are Begging You to Ditch a Super-Popular Product—Here’s Why

Floss picks are better than nothing, though, and can be a more accessible option. “Floss picks are great for people who do not have the manual dexterity for traditional floss,” Dr. Khan says. “Another study showed higher compliance and satisfaction in the floss pick group.”

Adding a Waterpik or water flosser can contribute to healthier gums and decrease the chance of gum disease progression, she continues, but should be used in conjunction with traditional flossing.

Other Longevity Tips

Two more major contributors to longevity are exercise and sleep.

Exercise helps with longevity by decreasing inflammation, increasing neuroplasticity, increasing muscle mass and improving VO2 max and grip strength,” Dr. Paulvin says. (VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can absorb and use during exercise.)

Related: ‘I’m a Neurologist, and These Are the Games That Actually Make a Difference in Brain Health’

Sleep improves longevity by maximizing hormones during sleep, maintaining circadian rhythm which helps with organ function, decreases inflammation and improves cognitive performance,” he continues.

But again, the focus here is flossing (as not fun as it can be). As Dr. Khan will tell you, “Proper oral hygiene can help you live better.”

Next Up: People Who Live Longer Eat These Specific Foods, According to a Major 36-Year Study