We’ve all heard that flossing is an important part of oral health. Most likely, your dentist or dental hygienist mentions this to you every time you have a dental appointment. Yet many of us would rather clean the bathroom floor than floss our teeth!
We’ve often been asked if flossing is really that important, and what will happen if we don’t floss our teeth? Let’s take a look …
One of our dental hygienists has an flossing analogy that’s a powerful visual reminder: “You wouldn’t wash only one side of a dirty dish, and then put it back in the cupboard to use again tomorrow, would you? When you brush your teeth, you’re only washing half of the surfaces of your teeth, front and back. You’re neglecting the two sides your toothbrush doesn’t touch. This leaves the sides of your teeth and the area near the gum line dirty, like only washing one side of a dish.”
Flossing your teeth is the way to get into these “nooks and crannies,” which need to be kept clean just as much as the rest of your teeth for good oral health. If you don’t floss, the areas between your teeth and underneath your gums begin to breed bacteria, and eventually plaque — both of which love to hide and cause problems.
What are the Benefits of Flossing Your Teeth?
The act of flossing breaks up plaque bacterial biofilm on your teeth. If this bacteria-ridden biofilm is allowed to remain on your teeth, it colonizes and actually changes the chemistry of your mouth, making it possible for “pathogens” to survive. This puts you at risk for developing an infection, and possibly disease of the structures in your mouth that support your teeth. Not flossing leaves you vulnerable to gum infection (gingivitis), which can lead to gum disease (periodontitis) and eventually cause tooth loss.
In addition to a healthier mouth, there’s another benefit to flossing your teeth: fresher breath!
I don’t see anything or feel anything different when I don’t floss. So why do it?
The initial signs of gum infection can be easy to miss, because there’s no pain or visual signs of gum or tooth distress. If you avoid flossing for a few days, you may notice your gums are a bit tender, red and they may bleed when you brush or eventually floss your teeth. Sadly, some people consider this to be normal. But healthy gums aren’t supposed to bleed!
As the infection in your mouth develops and disease begins to form there may be pus present in some areas of the mouth, but there still may not be any throbbing pain or obvious signs of problems until the disease is very advanced. Typically, you won’t notice your teeth are in danger until gum disease is very advanced. When gum disease reaches this stage, teeth may be painful and loose, and restoring teeth to health becomes unlikely. In fact, you may be at risk of tooth loss.
The good news is flossing regularly makes sure gum disease doesn’t have a fighting chance! It’s optimal to floss twice a day, but once will keep biofilm at bay.
How to floss your teeth:
Use 18 inches of floss. Wrap most of it around the middle finger of one hand, the rest around your other middle finger
Grasp the string tightly between your thumb and forefinger, and use a rubbing motion to guide it between teeth. Curve the floss to “give your tooth a little hug” with the floss, cleaning around the curved sides of your teeth
When the floss reaches the gum line, form a C to follow the shape of the tooth. This is the “hug” part of flossing
Hold the strand firmly against the tooth, and move it gently up and down
Repeat with the tooth on the other side of that space, and then repeat the entire process with the rest of your teeth.
Don’t forget to floss behind your back teeth, too — this is by far the place where most gum disease and decay manifests
Use fresh sections of floss as you go
Tools to help make flossing your teeth easier:
If you have tight spacing between teeth, use a dental floss like Glide, which is made specifically for “tight teeth”
Plastic, Y-shaped disposable flossers that allow for extra reach
Small, round brushes and/or pointed rubber tips
Wooden or plastic pics (called interdental cleaners)
The Sonicare Airfloss is a wonderful, battery-powered tool that uses a small microbead of water, and a forceful puff of air, to act as “floss.” While the Sonicare Airfloss does not work as effectively as a good, old-fashioned strand of dental floss, it’s a great alternative for people who struggle with flossing.
When it comes to children, they’ll usually need help flossing until they’re about 11 years old. Kids should begin to floss as soon as they have two teeth that touch. Even if they’re baby teeth, flossing is still important to a child’s oral health!