by Dr. Nabil Mockbil
You know all about the importance of brushing your teeth regularly and visiting your dentist every six months for a check-up, but how clued up are you with regards to flossing?
You take special care when brushing and you’re meticulous about brushing all the visible surfaces of the teeth, so you can skip the awkward flossing step in your oral hygiene routine, right? Wrong!
Why is it important?
- Flossing is very critical in mechanically removing all the bacteria and plaque from surfaces of the tooth that are not easily reached by your toothbrush- like between teeth.
- Plaque build-up in those areas can lead to gingivitis and cavities that cannot be seen easily- until it is too late.
The bacteria in dental plaque build-up can cause inflammation of the gums leading to gingivitis. Unchecked gingivitis can advance to periodontal disease which may lead to eventual tooth or bone loss. Gingivitis usually starts out with no pain or obvious discomfort, but you may notice that your gums are bleeding when you brush. This is the first sign that your gums are not as healthy as they should be. Visit your dentist to prevent further infection.
- Decaying food bits stuck in your teeth can also lead to bad breath- so flossing is one way to keep halitosis at bay.
- The sticky plaque that contains the harmful bacteria can remain lodged firmly between teeth. Over time it can cause the tooth enamel beneath to weaken resulting in a cavity.
- Periodontal disease is known to cause other health complications like heart disease, diabetes and can also increase the risk of low birth weight babies.
Even though the humble dental floss was recently mired in controversy when the US government removed the ‘floss regularly’ recommendation off its dietary guidelines, the American Dental Association has stood firmly in its stance that “flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums”, as stated on their website.
The American Academy of Periodontology has also weighed in and indicated that although there is no quality research backing up the recommendation for daily flossing, people are advised to continue using floss as an essential part of their daily, dental hygiene routine.
Now that we have firmly established the importance of flossing regularly, what is the easiest way to floss your teeth?
A step-by-step guide to flossing:
1. The first important consideration is the type of floss you use. There are various commercial flossing tools, floss tape made from different materials- waxed and unwaxed, and interdental brushes -to name but a few products used in the fight against gum disease.
- There are also special plastic disposable flossers that allow you to reach deep into your mouth to clean the molars located at the back.
- Interdental brushes are tiny, round brushes that you can use to access the spaces between teeth. These have the same effect as flossing tape and are preferred by some flossers.
- There are even special battery-operated machines that spray a thin stream of water and air under high pressure to clean those hard-to-reach areas.
- Even if you have mobility issues in your hands, you can find a product that will enable flossing easily.
- Speak to your dentist or oral hygienist for advice on the best type of floss and flossing tool for your individual needs.
Usually, people with larger spaces between their teeth are advised to use the wider, flat type of tape, while those with almost no space use a thinner tape that won’t shred as it passes through the small gaps.
2. Technique for normal dental tape that can be found rolled up in a small container:
- Break about 45cm of dental floss from the container using the specially designed safety blade. Wrap each end around either the pointer finger or middle finger of each hand (try both fingers out to see which you personally prefer).
- Using your thumb and forefinger, gently guide the tape between two teeth. Use an up and down motion in a C-shape around each tooth. This movement will rub away any plaque that has settled there during the day.
- Once you are confident that you have dislodged any debris that is stuck there, move onto the next interdental space. Work your way throughout your mouth covering all the hidden spaces between your teeth.
- As you move onto a new space between your teeth, move the tape along your fingers to use a clean section of the dental tape.
You can choose to floss after every meal, twice per day or at night- whichever is convenient for you.
3. Children will need help to floss their teeth until they’re able to master the co-ordination to floss effectively. This is usually up until the age of 11.
4. As soon as kids have 2 adjacent teeth that are touching each other, you can introduce them to this cleaning process.
Although flossing your teeth is awkward and one of your least favourite things to do, it is vitally important to your dental health and even your general health.
Find a flosser that makes this process easier for you, and your teeth and gums will thank you.
Dr. Nabil Mockbil received his DDS in 2001 from Umea University in Sweden, regarded as having the best dentist programme in Sweden for undergraduates. He’s now the founder of Swedish Dental Clinic in Dubai.