Is Flossing Really That Important?
Let’s talk about flossing.
We know. No one wants to floss. Recent statistics show that Americans can be roughly divided into thirds when it comes to flossing habits. Just under 1/3 of the population floss every day. Just over 1/3 of the population floss sometimes. And the rest admit to never flossing. Never. That hurts our dentist-hearts.
Many of our patients have shared that they feel guilty when we ask about flossing. We do not ever want to make anyone feel guilty. We simply want to know where you stand on the flossing issue so that we can point you in the right direction. Our goal is to encourage you to have great oral hygiene habits so that your visits to see us consist of maintenance only, not repair.
What does flossing accomplish?
A toothbrush mechanically removes soft buildup on the exposed surfaces of teeth. The bristles have to touch the tooth to be effective. Many areas of tooth structure are not accessible with a toothbrush, namely in between the teeth. A toothbrush can effectively clean the cheek side, the tongue side, and the biting surface of teeth. It simply cannot reach the side of a tooth that faces an adjacent tooth (called the interproximal surface).
Flossing removes plaque and food debris that your toothbrush leaves behind. By physically touching the interproximal surfaces of the teeth, floss does the job that a toothbrush cannot.
Increased life expectancy – Some studies claim an increase of 6.4 years for people who floss daily over those who do not. This is likely an assumed benefit based on the reduced risk of other diseases, which itself is another benefit of flossing.
Reduces risk of heart disease, cavities, gum disease – It is no surprise that flossing reduces the risk of dental disease. Anything that keeps the teeth and gums free from harmful bacteria will lower the risk of cavities and gum disease.
Over the last 20 years, new research has shown a significant link between oral health and systemic health. Patients with periodontal disease are more likely to have cardiovascular disease. People who suffer from severe dental disease are more likely to develop oral cancer. There is a proven connection between diabetes and gum disease. All of these associations make it clear that keeping your mouth healthy is beneficial for the whole body.
Improves bad breath – Bad breath is the product of bacteria and food debris that is left in the warm, moist environment of the mouth. A good, but gross, analogy is that the mouth is like a kitchen trash can. Flossing is like taking out the trash. When you neglect it, it starts to stink.
Gives gums healthy pink appearance – A beautiful smile involves more than just the teeth. Straight, white teeth surrounded by swollen, red, or receding gums cannot be considered beautiful or healthy. Flossing removes the source of gum inflammation (called gingivitis), which keeps them healthy. Healthy gum tissue is light pink in color, flat (not swollen, bulbous, or rounded), and does not bleed when brushed or flossed.
Not just any old flossing will do. In order for the floss to actually remove buildup from the teeth, it must touch the teeth. Simply snapping floss in between each tooth contact and hitting the gums can miss a large portion of the tooth. For effective flossing, envision the following diagram with a triangle between each tooth.
- Holding an end of the floss in each hand, first press back with both hands to wrap the floss around the rear tooth. Using an up and down motion, rub the floss against the side of the tooth labeled on the diagram as side #1 of the yellow triangle.
- Then pull forward with both hands to wrap it around the forward tooth. Using the same up and down motion, clean side #2 of the yellow triangle.
- Before pulling the floss out, use a gentle sweeping motion along the bottom of the triangle (side #3 on the yellow triangle) if there is any open space between the teeth to remove large pieces of debris that may have become lodged there. This step is necessary when the gum tissue does not completely fill in the triangular area. If you do not have gum recession or areas between the teeth called black triangles (described below), you may omit this step.
In some cases of overlapped teeth or teeth with large gaps, it is necessary to use additional tools to properly clean between the teeth.
Waterpik – A Waterpik is a tool that uses water or mouthwash at high pressure to flush out the areas between the teeth. This is a great tool for patients with braces, large areas of “black triangles”, or problems with handling floss (such as arthritis). Black triangles develop when the gums no longer completely fill the space between two teeth, as shown in the diagram. This open space allows food and bacteria to collect and presents an additional cleaning challenge. A Waterpik creates a power wash for these hard-to-clean areas. It is not a replacement for flossing.
Interproximal brushes – Another great tool for black triangles is a small angled brush called an interproximal brush. Brand names include Proxabrush, Go-Betweens, and Interdental brushes. They look like tiny pipe cleaners or bottle brushes and are made to fit between the teeth and gently scrub the side of each tooth. Please use caution with these tools. Aggressive use of an interproximal brush could create black triangles and gum recession. Only a light, gentle touch is necessary to remove plaque and food debris from between the teeth.
Do you have more questions about flossing?
If you have questions this blog did not answer or would like an in-person demonstration of the proper flossing technique, please call our office at 605-925-4999 (Freeman) or (605) 928-3363 (Parkston) to schedule your appointment today with Dr. Jason Aanenson, Dr. Alex Whitesell or Dr. Serena Whitesell and our dental hygienists. They will create a customized hygiene plan for you to keep your teeth as clean as possible.