That is the oral health question of 2016, thanks to multiple news reports last August that questioned whether flossing our teeth was a waste of time. Spoiler Alert: it’s not. In the wake of a slew of worldwide headlines the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services immediately counteracted with this corrective:
Flossing is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gumline. Professional cleaning, tooth brushing, and cleaning between teeth with floss or interdental brushes have all been shown to disrupt and remove plaque. NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), CDC’s Division of Oral Health and Healthy People 2020 have additional information and resources about efforts to address and improve oral health.
Paradoxically, the follow-up statement from HHS garnered little or no attention from the media. As a result, puzzled patients everywhere have been asking: Can I really quit flossing?
The short answer? Absolutely not. Flossing is critical to helping you maintain healthy teeth and gums because it’s a simple, but highly effective way to combat plaque buildup— those stony layers of schmutz that accumulate between your teeth as well as in other areas your toothbrush can’t reach.
Plaque doesn’t get removed unless you physically remove it. Skipping even a day or two gives bacteria the perfect breeding ground. Immediately after a meal or snack, odor-causing food debris caught between teeth will start to decompose. Within a few hours of eating this noxious substance begins hardening into an acidic, corrosive substance.
Over the next 48 hours plaque will actually fuse to your teeth and, rustlike, begin to eat through your enamel, causing bad breath, and eventually, cavities and inflamed, infected gums. And what’s worse than getting a cavity in a tooth? How about getting a cavity between two teeth. Remove bacterial buildup in those hard-to-reach areas, and you’ll save yourself the pain of going under the drill.
By the way, flossing is hardly a development of the modern age. Flossing, or some form of has been around since the pyramids—and likely before. In fact, ancient chew sticks or twigs are still in use today in many regions of the globe, particularly in indigenous cultures and developing countries. People pull a twig from a favorite tree, break it to create a workable tip, and splay the tip until it becomes a soft brush. Then they rub the brush over and between their teeth, in effect, clearing between teeth and wiping the surfaces clean.
Ironically, in some of these same traditional cultures that have virtually no access to modern toothbrushes – or, significantly, foods with processed sugars and white flour – modern-day indigenous people often have perfect pearly white teeth with no cavities. But that’s a story for another day.
Suffice to say; we at Leland dental are on board with the Massachusetts Dental Association, the American Dental Association and with dentists everywhere who vigorously recommend flossing as a formidable defense against cavities, gum disease, and many more oral health problems. For optimum oral health, you should floss once a day for two to three minutes, taking the time to floss between every tooth.
Timing is also important when it comes to flossing. According to the ADA, if you floss before you brush; the fluoride from the toothpaste has a better chance of reaching between the teeth. So follow up flossing with 3 minutes of brushing and rinsing. If you haven’t flossed regularly for a while, be aware that flossing may cause gums to bleed at first. But stick with it. The bleeding will stop and you’ll quickly notice a big difference in your mouth and in your oral health.
Here’s an excellent guide to effective flossing technique, courtesy of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association:
- Wind: Wind 18 inches of floss around middle fingers of each hand. Pinch floss between thumbs and index fingers, leaving a one- to two-inch length in between. Use thumbs to direct floss between upper teeth.
- Guide: Keep a one-to-two-inch length of floss taut between fingers. Use index fingers to guide floss between contacts of the lower teeth.
- Glide: Gently guide floss between the teeth by using a back and forth motion around the sides of each tooth.
- Slide: Slide floss up and down against the tooth surface and under the gum line. Floss each tooth thoroughly with a clean section of floss.
Bottom Line: flossing is critical to helping you maintain healthy teeth and gums because it removes plaque that can soon lead to cavities or gum disease from areas where a toothbrush can’t reach. We at Leland Dental propose that you start the New Year with a resolution to protect and care for your oral health. Create (and stick to) a twice-daily, 6-minute care routine for your teeth and gums that includes flossing, brushing and rinsing. It will likely be one of the shortest health workouts on your schedule, but the health benefits it provides will last a lifetime. Please call us at 781-826-8395 with any questions.
And from us to you, Happy 2017!