There are rumors going around that flossing is no longer necessary due to an article saying flossing benefits are unproven. There’s even been talk that flossing shouldn’t be recommended anymore. To some people, this may seem like a relief because flossing can seem inconvenient if not part of your daily routine. Sometimes it’s hard to decide just how important dental hygiene is. Is getting your teeth cleaned every six months enough to have oral health enough, or would flossing every day really make a difference? Hopefully the answers to these Frequently Asked Questions will clear up any uncertainties.
Why should I floss?
There’s a reason dentists tell us time and time again to floss: (why do you think they give you a free toothbrush and dental floss as a parting gift?) they can see the difference between someone who flosses and someone who only says they do. So let’s break it down.
What does flossing do?
Basically, as we eat and go about our days, food gets in between teeth and in hard to see and hard to reach places. There’s also this gross acid-producing bacteria in between the teeth that our toothbrushes simply cant reach called plaque. Flossing simply removes those untouched food particles and that plaque which can cause serious damage if not removed. As an added benefit, flossing also polishes the surfaces of teeth and helps get rid of bad breath. So essentially it’s for the same reasons we brush our teeth, it just helps in between the teeth and the gums. Flossing also reduces the chance of getting cavities, prevents gingivitis (more on that later), and prevents tooth decay, which decreases the likelihood of needing dentures when you’re older.
What happens if I don’t floss?
We all know because the dentist tells us every visit, “you need to floss more!” They’re not telling us this just because; there’s a reason. There are some serious risks to not flossing, and it’s more than getting cavities or needing dentures. We’ll talk more in depth about gum disease, but while one of the symptoms is receding gum lines, a lot worse things can happen if untreated. Health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and respiratory diseases have shown to be linked to gum disease. Also, pregnant women need to take extra care of their teeth and gums because gum disease has been linked to premature and low-weight births. Of course there are always other factors involved, but maintaining proper oral hygiene can cut those risks down. On top of that, tooth decay comes straight from not taking care of your teeth, such as flossing regularly. Those bacterial things such as plaque and tartar can create cavities and will rot away your teeth.
How often should I floss?
The Academy of General Dentistry (or AGD) says flossing even two or three times a week can be beneficial, and it’s always better than not flossing at all. However, to get the best results, it’s best to floss every day. It takes plaque only 48 hours to be firmly stuck on your teeth and can only be removed by professional cleaning. So that’s just skipping a couple of days. Unless you want to book a teeth-cleaning appointment at your dentist office every other day, flossing is the way to go. Flossing every day increases the chance you get to keep your teeth and decreases the chance of gum disease.
Another factor flossing prevents is bad breath, which we’ve all tackled at some point or another. Bad breath comes from all those food particles lodged in between our teeth and in the gums (why do you think some restaurants offer toothpicks?). The longer the food stays there, they more bacteria they collect, causing bad breath.
Flossing daily makes your teeth and gums look healthier, keeps you healthy, and prevents bad breath.
How do I floss?
The ADA actually demonstrates the proper way to floss here.
Of course, it depends on what tool you are using and if you have braces.
Also, if it hurts to floss, you may be flossing too hard or incorrectly. A lot of people practice the “sawing” method where they just drag the floss across the gums back and forth. No matter what tool you use, make sure you are following the instructions correctly to gain the most benefits from flossing and to prevent any damage to the gums. When in doubt, contact your dentist.
What kind of floss should I use?
As we’ve said before, everyone’s mouths are different. Everyone has different smiles. It’s best to find which floss tool works best for you. When it comes down to it, there’s not really a method that’s better than the other. While some tools may clean in different ways or reach deeper places, at the end of the day, it’s just beneficial to floss.
There’s the obvious thread-style floss that everyone thinks of when floss is mentioned, and those can come in waxed or unwaxed forms, tapes, and more. There are also the sticks that make it easier to reach farther back in the mouth for those that really struggle with the threads and fitting your fingers all the way in the back. Of course, there are also the toothpicks they hand out at restaurants. But there’s also irrigation flosses that shoot water or air and really get that deep clean. There are so many to choose from.
While it’s important to floss daily regardless, it’s also important to make sure you’re using the tool best for you and correctly. As always, when you’re not sure what to use, ask your dentist.
What is gum disease?
Plaque, our unwelcome visitor that’s been making a mess of oral health, is what causes gum disease. The good news is the first stage of gum disease, gingivitis, is also the most treatable. Remember how we said dentists could tell the difference between someone who flosses and someone who doesn’t? This is because of inflammation. People who suffer from sensitive or bleeding gums actually have inflamed gums, a sign of gingivitis. Our immune system actually inflames the gums as a response to all of the bacteria in between teeth. So no flossing means bacteria between the teeth, bacteria means plaque, the build-up of plaque leads to tartar, so our body inflames the gums to prevent all that bacteria from getting into our system.
Another sign of gingivitis is a receding gum line. Only certain parts of our teeth are supposed to be visible. When we suffer from gingivitis, our gums start to recede, showing more of the tooth. This means parts of teeth are becoming susceptible to bacteria that usually don’t, increasing the probability of gum disease.
When your gums are sensitive or bleed on the rare occasion you do floss, it’s easy to want to avoid the pain of flossing. But really, flossing more frequently can prevent them from bleeding by increasing overall gum health.
How can I make my teeth whiter?
A lot of people’s main goal is to have that “pearly-white smile,” but there’s something in the way: teeth stains. These can be caused by a lot of things. Former braces-wearers are more susceptible to these stains if they were not removed properly. They use a special kind of cement to keep the braces attached to the teeth. If not cleaned and maintained properly, plaque and eventually tartar can build-up around that cement and harden, so when the braces come off and the cement is (hopefully) completely removed, what’s left behind are the stains. Regardless if you’ve ever needed braces, stains can affect everyone. But teeth stains are always caused by the build-up of plaque, which turns into tartar. When we get our teeth professionally cleaned at the dentist office, they do everything they can to remove that tartar and plaque. However, a stain is a stain, so it’s best to do everything you can to prevent them, like flossing.
And surprisingly enough, flossing can help with whitening your teeth. Removing all that plaque and food particles does in fact make your teeth look brighter more than brushing alone can. Flossing is a healthier way to improve the appearance of teeth, instead of bleaching them, because flossing also keeps the gums healthy. There are even whitening floss options available. However, products that specify whitening such as floss, mouthwash, and toothpaste only make slight changes in tooth color. It’s best to speak with your dentist first if you have severely stained teeth, crowns, or implants.
Can’t I just use mouthwash instead?
Instead? No. Mouthwash has a lot of benefits, of course, but not nearly as many as flossing. This is because mouthwash only removes some of the bacteria found on teeth while flossing removes it completely. If anything, we recommend using mouthwash and flossing, since mouthwash can loosen up the particles, increasing the chance of getting a deeper clean when you floss.
There are a lot of articles out there where people try to prove that flossing isn’t beneficial or that it’s a waste of time. Some people simply don’t see the kind of results they want as quickly as they wish so they go about their lives truly thinking flossing isn’t worth it. But there are also some that show how beneficial it is. Is adding just one more step to our daily routine really that bad when the benefits are this great? We all need a reason to smile more, so why not give yourself the absolute best smile you can by practicing proper oral hygiene and floss daily.