Flossing FAQ

Rumours are circulating.  Is flossing still necessary?  Should it still be recommended?  This is down to one study claiming flossing benefits are unproven. To some, this may be a relief.  Flossing can seem inconvenient if it’s not part of your daily routine.  It can be hard to decide just how important dental hygiene is. Would flossing every day really make a difference? If the dentist cleans my teeth professionally every six months isn’t that enough? The answers to these Frequently Asked Questions aim to clear up uncertainties and encourage you to go ahead and floss!

Why should I floss?

 There’s a reason dentists tell us time and time again to floss.  Why do you think they give you free 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, a lot of what we eat and drink stays in our mouths.  It hides in places your toothbrush simply can’t reach.  As it mixes with our saliva it produces acid-producing bacteria.  This eats away at the enamel that keeps teeth white.  It forms a bacterial film called plaque which causes gum disease.  Put simply, flossing removes hidden food particles and plaque which can otherwise cause serious damage. As an added benefit, flossing also polishes the surfaces of teeth and helps get rid of bad breath. So basically we floss to clean the whole tooth -including the space between teeth and gums.  Brushing alone can’t do this.  Flossing also reduces the likelihood of cavities, prevents tooth decay and gingivitis (more on that later).  This in turn decreases the likelihood of tooth loss.

         What happens if I don’t floss?

There’s a reason the dentist tells you to floss more every visit.  There are some serious risks to not flossing.  If you don’t floss you risk more than cavities or tooth loss.  Infected gums can lead to more than just a receding gum line.  Gum disease is linked to many serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and respiratory diseases.  Gum disease is also linked to premature and low-weight births.  So pregnant women really need to take extra care of their teeth and gums. Of course there are other factors involved, but maintaining proper oral hygiene can cut these risks down.

How often should I floss?

 The Academy of General Dentistry (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. Plaque needs only 48 hours to get firmly stuck to your teeth. That’s just two days. Unless you want to book a teeth-cleaning appointment at your dentist office every other day, flossing is the way to go. Flossing daily increases oral health and decreases gum disease.

 Flossing also prevents bad breath.  Bad breath comes from food particles lodged between our teeth and between the teeth and gums.  The longer the food stays there, they more bacteria it collects, causing bad breath.

Flossing daily makes your teeth and gums look healthier, keeps you healthy and smelling sweet.

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 use a “sawing” action.  This involves moving the floss back and forth across the gums.  This will just injure your gums.  No matter what flossing tool you use, make sure you follow instructions correctly to gain the most benefit from flossing and prevent damage to the gums. When in doubt, contact your dentist.

What kind of floss should I use?

 As we’ve said before, everyone’s mouth is different. Everyone has different smiles. It’s best to find which floss tool works best for you.  Whilst flossing tools clean in different ways or reach deeper places, ultimately it’s just beneficial to floss.

There’s the obvious thread-style floss that everyone thinks of when floss is mentioned.  This comes in waxed or unwaxed forms, tapes, and more. There are also sticks that make it easier to reach farther back in the mouth for those that really struggle with fitting your fingers in the back of your mouth.   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 causes gum disease. The good news is the first stage of gum disease, gingivitis, is the most treatable. Remember we said that dentists could tell the difference between those who floss and those who don’t? This is because of inflammation. People who suffer from sore or bleeding gums actually have inflamed gums, a sign of gingivitis. Our immune system inflames the gums as a response to the bacteria between our teeth. So, not flossing means bacteria between the teeth.  The result is plaque.  Plaque build-up leads to tartar.  Consequently, the body inflames the gums to prevent that bacteria from getting into our system.

Another sign of gingivitis  is a receding gum line. Only certain parts of our teeth should be visible. When we suffer from gingivitis, the gums 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 when you do floss, it’s natural to want to avoid the pain of flossing. But really, flossing correctly and often can prevent bleeding by increasing overall gum health.

How can I make my teeth whiter?

 A lot of people aim for a winning smile.  But stains get in the way.  These can be caused by a lot of things.  If braces are not removed properly there is a grater risk of staining.  The cement used to attach braces and retainers to teeth attracts plaque and tartar build-up.  So when braces come off and the cement is (hopefully) completely removed, what’s left behind are the stains.

But stains can affect everyone. Plaque and tartar build-up always causes staining.  Braces or not.  The dentist will do everything possible to whiten your smile.  But a stain is a stain.  It’s best that you everything you can to avoid staining by flossing.

The good news is, flossing actually helps to whiten teeth.  Food that stays between your teeth leads to acid producing bacteria.  This damages the enamel that keeps your teeth white.  Plaque dulls your teeth.  So removing all that plaque and food basically makes your teeth look brighter more than brushing alone. Flossing is a healthier way to improve the appearance of teeth rather than bleaching them.  Why? Because it keeps the gums healthy. There are even whitening floss options available. However, these only make slight changes in tooth colour. 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.  Mouthwash can loosen up the particles, increasing the chance of getting a deeper clean when you floss.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of articles out there that claim flossing isn’t beneficial or is a waste of time. Some people simply don’t see the results they want quickly enough so they come to believe flossing isn’t worth it. But there are also some that show how beneficial it is.  Isn’t adding one small step to our daily routine a good thing when the benefits are so great? We all need a reason to smile more.  So why not give yourself the best smile you can by practising proper oral hygiene and flossing daily!

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