Ask dental patients about brushing, and most everyone will tell you it’s an essential aspect of oral healthcare. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t place the same importance on flossing. One study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that 68 percent of American adults floss at least once every week, while Delta Dental reports that 20 percent of adults never do.
Think about the anatomy of a tooth for a moment. There are four surfaces visible above the gum line – the front, back, two sides, and a chewing surface. When you brush, you effectively remove food particles, bacteria, and debris from the front, back, and chewing surfaces. But what about the surfaces in between? Unless you floss, you’re really only cleaning about half of your teeth surfaces.
Why is Flossing Necessary?
Flossing effectively removes plaque, tartar, and other irritants that accumulate between the teeth. Every day that you don’t clean between the teeth, plaque builds up along the gum line. As a result, the risk for tooth decay and gum disease increases exponentially.
If you skip out on flossing, the gum tissue becomes irritated and red. These are symptoms of gingivitis – the first stage of gum disease. Left untreated, gingivitis will progress to periodontitis. At this stage of disease, infection spreads beneath the gums and starts to erode the bone that supports the teeth. Ultimately, this can lead to mobility and tooth loss.
Furthermore, oral bacteria start to feed on the plaque and erode the enamel. Once the bacteria have reached the inner structure of the tooth, cavities can form. Proper oral hygiene not only preserves your oral health, but it also reduces the need for invasive treatments in the future.
Additional Benefits of Cleaning between the Teeth
In addition to reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease, flossing offers other benefits as well. For example, it can:
- Prevent bad breath: Flossing removes food particles that are lodged between the teeth, eliminating excessive oral bacteria that cause bad breath.
- Reduce the risk of heart disease: The link between oral health and whole-body health is well documented. If bacteria exist in the oral cavity, they are also present in the bloodstream. As a result, bacteria can be carried throughout the entire body and wreak havoc on your overall health. Gum disease has been linked to heart disease, stroke, and other serious medical conditions.
- Prevent respiratory diseases: Oral bacteria can actually travel into the respiratory system and cause a host of issues, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Help control diabetes: Gum disease can have a negative impact on glucose levels, which can exacerbate diabetes. Routinely removing dental plaque can help control the disease.
How to Floss Properly
Flossing must be performed properly for maximum benefit. Here are some steps to help you floss effectively:
- Take approximately 18 inches of floss and wrap the ends around the middle fingers.
- Guide the floss in between two teeth using the thumbs and forefingers.
- Once the floss is in place, wrap it in a C-shape around one tooth.
- Gently rub the floss up and down the length of the tooth. You’ll also want to clean deep into the gum line using gentle pressure.
- Next, wrap the floss around the other tooth and repeat the process.
- Follow these same guidelines on every tooth, using about seven to 10 strokes each time.
What Type of Floss Should I Use?
There are several different types of floss available, including waxed, unwaxed, flavored, and more. All of these flosses work well, but it’s important to choose one that works for you. Simply stated, choose a product you know you’ll use. The only floss you should steer clear of is the super-thin type; it resembles fishing line and is so fine that it can actually damage the gum tissue.
A good rule of thumb is to search for a product with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. If you’re still not sure which type of floss to purchase, ask your dentist.
Flossing vs Waterpiks
Waterpiks are popular oral healthcare products, and they offer many benefits to patients. It’s important to understand that waterpiks should only be used in conjunction with floss – they are not intended to replace it.
Waterpiks are beneficial for removing large food particles and other debris from hard-to-reach areas. However, they do not remove harmful biofilms, which harbor bacteria. In order to properly clean the teeth, there must be direct contact. That’s why flossing is so effective.
Flossing Alternatives for Dental Restorations
Individuals who have dental bridges, implants, or other restorations may need some additional tools to help keep harmful bacteria at bay. For example, a bridge is a multiple-unit restoration milled from a single block of ceramic. To effectively clean underneath a bridge, floss threaders, dental picks, or interproximal brushes may be necessary.
Similarly, there are certain tools and techniques that can help you clean dental implants more effectively. Unlike a natural tooth root, an implant is cylindrical. During your next dental visit, ask your dentist or hygienist to demonstrate proper flossing techniques around these restorations.
Learn More about Proper Oral Hygiene
Flossing is a crucial aspect of at-home oral hygiene and can help keep your teeth healthy between routine checkups and cleanings. To learn more, or to schedule a visit with Dr. Fondriest, contact Lake Forest Dental Arts online or call us at (847) 234-0517.