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The health benefits and necessity of flossing teeth were called into question this year by the Associated Press. Many people were probably happy to hear this – one less step in the oral hygiene routine! However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just issued a statement in August 2016 that assured that flossing is an “important oral hygiene practice” when it comes to taking care of your teeth and gums. Experts agree that there are still many reasons why flossing helps keep your mouth healthy, no matter what the Associated Press has claimed. This guide focuses on answering all of your flossing questions, including the most common one: how often should you floss?
What Studies Show
The American Dental Association states that flossing is important because, along with brushing, it helps remove plaque. Plaque is a slimy build-up of bacteria that eventually hardens into tartar if it remains on the tooth over time.
This stains your tooth, and exposes it to decay-causing bacteria. Toothbrushes, no matter how expensive and nice, often cannot reach certain spaces in between our teeth, while floss can.
They also state that flossing regularly can assist in the prevention of both gum disease and cavities and recommend flossing at least once a day. It’s best to make a habit of the practice, choosing to either floss before or after brushing your teeth (it doesn’t matter which), so that it’s built into your daily oral hygiene routine and you don’t forget to do it.
The daily habit of flossing does 40% of the work when it comes to removing plaque from your teeth. Brushing alone is not enough.
Effectiveness of Flossing
The New York University College of Dentistry conducted a research study on the benefits of flossing, looking at twins to see the effects of flossing in pairs with the same genetics and daily diets. In this study, researchers followed 51 pairs of twins of varying demographics and looked at the number of periodontal pathogens and specific bacteria in their mouths after a two-week period of one group flossing and one group not flossing.
The group that did not floss was found to have much more decay-causing bacteria in their mouths. The researchers concluded that brushing the teeth and tongue while also flossing significantly reduces the numbers of microbes related to periodontal disease.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, removing plaque has been shown to reduce gum inflammation. Since flossing removes plaque from teeth, it therefore helps reduce inflammation and eventual gum disease caused by the bacteria in plaque. It can take up to 15 years for gum disease to develop, so it’s important to take preventative measures on a daily basis.
Flossing can help prevent bad breath as well. When little bits of food get caught in between your teeth, they will eventually produce chemicals that will contribute to oral malodor and halitosis if they remain there. That debris isn’t getting out any other way – you need to actively floss that debris out yourself.
Anything that helps reduce bad bacteria in your body is useful and worthwhile. The bacteria that causes cavities, gingivitis, and halitosis are also linked to other serious health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and pneumonia.
Bacteria that can proliferate in your mouth can affect other areas of your body other than your oral cavity. Reducing bacteria makes taking a minute to floss every day beneficial to our overall health.
Although you might think there is only one way to floss, there are actually multiple tools that can be purchased and used for this purpose. There is regular dental floss, a string that you can weave around your teeth, and also dental picks, tiny brushes for reaching in between teeth (called interdental brushes), dental tape, pre-threaded flossers and water flossers.
Regular dental floss itself comes in many varieties: waxed, unwaxed, comfort, thick, nylon, Teflon, shred-resistant, flavored, and unflavored. All of these types are effective for cleaning around and in between teeth. With some consideration, you can find the perfect tools for flossing that remove plaque and do not hurt your gums.
How to Floss the Right Way
It’s not enough to just floss however. It’s important to floss correctly. Flossing ineffectively will not do much for your oral health. In fact, flossing incorrectly might cause you to damage and cut up your gums, which is quite important to avoid considering your gums do not grow back. Gum recession can lead to painful teeth sensitivity that will require treatment and care for the rest of your life.
First, make sure you’ve chosen a type of floss that is easy for you to use. You can try purchasing several kinds and experimenting to see which one works the best for you. If you have wider spaces in between your teeth, it might be best to use wider dental tape, for instance. Conversely, if you have teeth that are very close together, it’s best to buy floss that is shred-resistant.
Keep in mind that every tooth has five surfaces – the back and front, which is where toothbrushes can easily reach, the two sides, and then the top of the tooth. It’s important to clean every side of the tooth to avoid the accumulation of plaque. Even the sides and top of the teeth can develop cavities.
To floss correctly with string or tape floss, cut off about 18 inches and wrap it around the middle fingers of both hands. Hold the floss tightly in between your fingers on both hands, about 2 inches of floss between. Remembering to be gentle as to not hurt the inside of your mouth, run the floss up and down along the sides of your teeth, even under the gums. When the floss is against the gumline, pull the string against the tooth until there’s resistence, forming a C shape around the tooth. Gently, move the floss up and down the sides. Repeat the process for every tooth. Moving from one tooth to the next will help you avoid missing any teeth.
When to Floss
The best time to floss is when you have the most time to floss thoroughly and effectively. This might mean not flossing in the morning when you’re rushing out the door to get to work. When done thoroughly, flossing should take about two minutes, not including the time it takes to brush your teeth.
It’s best to try to make time before bedtime to floss thoroughly. Having a clean mouth before you sleep at night is important because while we sleep our salivary glands produce less saliva, making our teeth and gums more susceptible to bacteria and the acid they produce when they digest sugars left behind on our teeth. If bacteria have time to produce these acids and the acid builds up, it can wear away at the enamel on the tooth and create a cavity.
Flossing Guide Wrap Up
Make sure to build a habit of flossing every 24 hours at least, and make sure you floss correctly and gently as to avoid damaging your gums. Flossing is an important factor in maintaining good oral health throughout your lifetime. The practice helps you avoid gum inflammation and eventual gingivitis, reducing the amount of bacteria in our mouth and removing food debris in places where no other tool can reach.