It’s become a running gag that dentists are always informing patients that they aren’t flossing their teeth enough. Despite the jokes, flossing is not something to be dismissed or taken lightly. While brushing helps remove plaque from the surface of your teeth, only floss can get between your teeth and clear away stubborn debris. Here's why this extra step is vital to your hygiene routine, and how to floss properly at home.
Dr. Padmaja Yalamanchili of Fairfax Family Dentist in Fairfax, Virginia, provides general dentistry for children as well as adults, and wants patients to know that brushing and flossing correctly is still the number one way to keep your mouth and teeth healthy.
Why flossing matters
Nearly half of adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease. Gum disease starts as gingivitis, heralded by tender, bleeding gums. Over time, gingivitis will slowly worsen into advanced gum disease, or periodontitis. This progression causes the gum tissue to slowly draw back and recede, exposing the roots of the teeth.
Periodontitis not only leaves you at risk of severe gum infection, jawbone loss, and tooth decay, but is the number one cause of tooth loss. Because your gums and underlying bone hold your teeth in place, damage by untreated periodontal disease destabilizes all of the surrounding teeth.
If you brush gently and regularly, you’re stimulating the gum tissue and encouraging blood flow while clearing away plaque. However, the spaces between your teeth are out of reach of brush bristles. It’s easy for debris to become stuck, especially if you have crooked or gapped teeth. Flossing is the only way to properly clean the gums, but you need to know and apply the proper technique.
How to floss properly
Flossing is deceptively difficult, which is what makes many people so frustrated with the process. In theory, it sounds simple. Wrap the floss around your fingers, and then slip it between the teeth to pull out debris as you gently pull the floss back and forth.
This might be easy on some teeth, and almost impossible with others. If you have a TMJ disorder, opening your mouth wide enough to get the floss in to reach back teeth can be hard, and flossing crooked teeth takes extra time and effort.
Tips for better flossing
Start by remembering that you need to curve the floss around each side of each tooth to get all of the debris. This means you have to floss between each pair of teeth twice, first pulling against one tooth to scrape it clean, then against the other.
You also need to be sure you are going all the way down to the gumline. Move slowly and firmly, as abruptly hitting the gums between teeth can cause little cuts and bleeding. If you’re having trouble reaching all of your teeth with handheld floss, consider trying disposable picks or oral irrigators. These tools can help you reach where normal floss cannot.
Beating gum disease with flossing
With a consistent hygiene routine, gingivitis and even moderate periodontal disease can be walked back, allowing your gums to recover. While lost tissue cannot be replaced without a graft, you can strengthen your gums and prevent the disease from returning. Your teeth will also be stronger and healthier.
If you have questions about flossing and want to make sure you’re doing it correctly, don’t feel afraid to ask your dentist. Many people weren’t taught the proper technique as children, or simply need a refresher. Dr. Yalamanchili always welcomes questions and opportunities to help you take care of your teeth.
Get a fresh start with a teeth cleaning, and learn more about flossing by calling 703-213-5312, or book an appointment online.