The Importance of Flossing
Without a doubt, one of the first questions your dentist will ask during your regular checkup (or hopefully not during an emergency visit) is, “do you floss regularly?” You should always be able to truthfully answer, “Yes, I do.”
Your dentist has good reason to ask if you floss regularly. It is as important for your dental health as brushing your teeth and using an antibacterial mouthwash, but the benefits of flossing are overlooked by many people.
Many people don’t realize the importance of daily flossing. Flossing plays a leading role in overall dental hygiene. Using dental floss is different from tooth brushing and oral rinsing. Brushes clean the tops of your teeth and outer surfaces, including your gums, and swishing mouthwash gets between your teeth for a final cleaning. Neither of these practices does the entire job of maintaining your dental care, however.
The importance of daily flossing can’t be overstated. Unlike mouthwash and your toothbrush, dental floss acts as an interdental cleaner, meaning that floss gets between the gaps in your teeth and under the surface where your gums meet your teeth. These are the places your toothbrush can’t reach and where plaque forms.
Bacteria cause plaque. It begins with a thin film that coats your teeth and is generally deposited by the foods you eat—especially foods with high sugar content. As plaque builds up on your tooth surfaces and under your gums, it hardens into a brownish residue called tartar. You can easily remove plaque with a daily cleaning program. But, once it sets into tartar, manual scraping by your dentist or hygienist is the only way to remove it.
Removing tartar can be an uncomfortable experience especially if regular dental maintenance hasn’t been done. Gums can be raw and start bleeding. The process can be painful. And, you’re left with a significant dental bill. It doesn’t need to be so if you floss daily and make it part of your regular dental care.
Before looking at the benefits of daily flossing and all the different types and applications of dental floss, let’s look at how dental hygiene (or lack of) can affect your overall health.
Why is Flossing Important for Dental Hygiene?
It’s said that your mouth is a window that shows your health. The hard enamel of your teeth and soft tissues of your gums expose what’s happening with the rest of your body — your overall physical health.
Healthy dental care is a vital and important part of maintaining a balance of the body’s systems. Many clinical studies have linked poor oral care and the two main oral diseases to systematic disease where the inflammation from dental decay and gum disease cause bacteria to enter the circulatory system.
The spread of inflammation triggered by the bacteria, called “ravaging”, causes the liver to release “C-Reactive Proteins” that attempt to fight off the invasion. Inflammation from poor oral hygiene is known to be a leading contributor to heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, dementia, kidney disease and even erectile dysfunction.
Tooth decay is a leading problem in all societies, even in well-educated America where preventative programs have been in place for years. Every kid growing up learns to brush their teeth before going to bed, and many brush after each meal. But the same doesn’t go for flossing, which is the one and only effective way to get at the areas where plaque forms, tartar builds up and the beginnings of oral disease start.
The two main oral diseases are gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis begins as a reddish swelling and bleeding of the gums at the tooth line. It’s easily reversible with proper care and a continual hygiene program. Periodontitis is an advanced disease stage centered in the roots of the teeth and the bones of the jaw. Left untreated, periodontitis is a serious and severe disease that can ultimately be fatal.
Studies released by the American Dental Association (ADA) report that people who don’t brush their teeth as well as those who don’t floss are far more likely to develop gingivitis and periodontitis. This puts them at a greater risk of heart disease and up to 10 times more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack.
Gum disease also significantly raises the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes with some studies indicating as much as 700 percent higher odds.
This can all be avoided and it’s the main reason why daily flossing is so important.
History of Dental Floss
Before discussing the different types of dental floss and other benefits of flossing teeth, it’s interesting to review some history.
Using some form of flossing teeth to get rid of trapped food particles has been around since the Neanderthals strung their teeth with animal sinew. This would have been to relieve irritation rather than a program to prevent gingivitis and periodontitis, although there’s no doubt our early ancestors would have suffered from both diseases and died from them, especially the older people who would suffer from malnourishment from the loss of teeth and the pain involved in chewing.
The first commercial dental floss originated in New Orleans back in 1819, when a dentist by the name of Levi Parmly used silk thread coated in wax to clean his patients’ teeth and massage their gums. Dr. Parmly advised his patients that this was the most important oral care they could do — even over top of daily brushing.
No one knows where the term “floss” came from, but in 1898 Johnson & Johnson Corporation drew the first patent for unwaxed silk dental floss made from the same silk thread surgeons used during the Civil War to suture incisions, cuts and lacerations. It seems that silk was strong, cheap, and resistant to blood as well as bacteria.
Dental floss took another leap forward during the Second World War. Nylon floss was developed because it was stronger, more resistant to fraying from abrasion and could be cost-effectively mass-produced in long lengths and different thicknesses.
Over the last sixty years, there have been enormous advancements in manufacturing different types of dental floss and their applicators. Let’s look at the most popular types of today’s dental floss.
Types of Dental Floss
The first question you might ask is, “Which type is best?” Well, the best answer is, “Whichever type you’ll actually use on a daily basis.”
Flossing is as important as brushing. Once you’re in the daily flossing habit to go along with brushing and using an antibacterial oral wash, you’re well on the way to disease-free, long-term dental health. Setting that aside, it’s important to know the different types of floss, how they’re packaged, and understand the proper way to actually floss your teeth so you’re getting the most amount of hygiene return from it.
There are two main types of string dental floss:
- Nylon, which is multifilament or multi-strand floss.
- PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene), which is single strand floss.
Nylon dental floss is the good product that’s been around for years. It comes in waxed and unwaxed forms. The waxed form acts as a lubricant so the string slips easier between your teeth. Nylon floss is the most common floss. It’s cheaper to produce and buy than the single-strand, solid PTFE floss, but with the drawback that it’s easily torn and shredded, making it short-lived and disposable as well as catching on jagged edges and hanging up.
PTFE dental floss is made from one solid run of fiber, often a plastic or rubber by-product. It’s more expensive in the initial purchase, but PTFE floss can be used over and over, which compensates for the outlay. PTFE is also called monofilament because of the single strand and is much newer technology on the dental floss scene. Dental tape is an example of monofilament PTFE floss. It’s much smoother to use than multifilament and tends to glide over tooth surfaces. Many commercial PTFE dental floss products include the name “Glide” in them, so watch for that on the label.
Both types of dental floss come in various thicknesses or, in the case of “Superfloss”, one length can have numerous thicknesses to accommodate the different triangular gaps between the teeth known as “embrasure” spaces. Superfloss has a stiffened-end threader, which starts the floss between the teeth, followed by a spongy floss that wipes the bigger gaps and then finishes with a regular sized floss to get under the gum line.
Gauging the right thickness of floss requires a bit of experimentation. The floss that easily snaps between your teeth without forcing or being impossible to pull through will be the right size. Your dentist or hygienist will be a good source of recommendation.
Dental floss also comes with different applicators. The standard string floss is normally cut off from its rolled dispenser and wound around both forefingers or middle fingers, then pulled back and forth and up and down between each tooth. Some people find it uncomfortable to have the string digging into the fingers and choose to use a “pick” or “frame” floss applicator. These are used with one hand, but a word of caution for effective flossing — they aren’t flexible enough to wrap around the tooth and can’t reach some places in the mouth.
Frame applicators are great for immediately dislodging trapped food such as in a restaurant or at work, but you should avoid them in proper daily care when flossing the entire gum line. They do work well, though, when helping children or acting as a caregiver to special needs adults.
Some dental floss applicators are specially designed for people with orthodontics such as braces, wires and bridgework. In these situations, it’s always safest to get a specialist’s recommendation on the best type of floss and the application.
Some companies claim that oral irrigators are a substitute for string dental floss, but this is misleading. The water jets from oral irrigators may feel good to the teeth and gums and may be easy on the fingers, but they don’t get under the gum lines or the tiny places where bacteria hides and turns into plaque and tartar. Oral irrigators may be part of your dental hygiene program for introducing an oral wash, but they’re no substitute for regular string dental floss.
No discussion on the types of dental floss would be complete without mentioning flavor. Some people prefer a neutral taste of regular waxed or non-waxed floss and others prefer a little taste additive for freshness, just like they do with toothpaste.
There are seemingly endless amounts of choices from mint to berry to fruit to bubblegum. And, not even being facetious, one company even offers bacon-flavored dental floss.
How to Correctly Use Dental Floss
Correctly using dental floss is very simple, yet of extreme importance in flossing teeth. The best instruction is to have your dentist or hygienist demonstrate the proper procedure in order to get the best benefits of flossing.
Here is a simple step-by-step guide to proper flossing using string type floss:
- Detach between 18 and 24 inches of floss from the spool
- Wind the ends around your fore or middle fingers
- Leave about 4 inches of strand between your fingers
- Snap the strand between two teeth
- Wrap the strand in a “C” cup-shape around one tooth
- Gently work the strand back and forth to dislodge food
- Now gently work the strand under the gum line
- Work the “C” cup-shape grip up and down on the tooth to rid plaque
- Repeat on the adjacent tooth
- Move on to the next pair of teeth
- Revolve around the mouth
- Clockwise or counter clockwise and from top to bottom doesn’t matter
- Use a new section of floss as it wears and frays
Generally, the same rules apply for PTFE floss, however, you can see how difficult it can be to form a “C’ cup-shape using a frame or stick applicator. It’s the “C” cup-shape and the up and down motion that really do the job in removing plaque long before it becomes tartar.
How Often to Floss
All dental experts recommend a regular flossing program of once per day. This depends on the individual’s schedule and routine.
Many people floss just before bed so the bacteria and plaque don't build up overnight when the mouth is inactive. Others choose to floss first thing in the morning to give a fresh start on the day. Some carry floss with them all the time and use it when needed to keep a continual floss of their teeth.
The important point is not how often — it’s that you’re doing it regularly — at least once per day.
Flossing for Children
When is the best time to start flossing?
As soon as you have teeth and that’s why many parents begin teaching their kids to floss with their baby teeth. Not only is it life-long habit forming, it’s just plain good dental care.
Kids react differently to flossing than adults, though. Their manual dexterity is not the same and they have a hard time flossing alone until about age ten. Once a child has learned to use a toothbrush, it’s time to introduce them to dental floss. To make learning easier, here are five tips on teaching kids to floss.
- Set an example. Floss along with your child and show them how.
- Get them their own floss. Having their own dental tools makes it more personal.
- Reinforce their habits. Make sure flossing is a pre-bedtime ritual.
- Map their progress. Like a growth chart, keep records of new teeth flossed.
- Make it fun. Turn getting rid of the “Sugarbugs” into a game.
A last word on the benefits of flossing. No matter what type of floss you use, it won’t widen the gaps between your teeth and it will not, in any way, contribute to tooth decay from a flavor additive. There are absolutely no harmful side effects from regularly flossing your teeth. Not flossing, however, is a different story.
For all your routine dental care needs including the importance of flossing in Yuma, AZ, be sure to contact Yuma Dental today.