The average person should use around 110 metres of dental floss in their lifetime, but sales figures indicate that not only are we falling well short of that figure, we’re paying for our floss-avoidance with our health.
In fact, the National Oral Health Plan estimates that a whopping 63,000 Australians are hospitalised each year for preventable dental conditions! A scary stat, sure, but, the good news is, the power of prevention is in your hands – and a crucial part of it comes in the form of a tiny box of thread.
Flossing only takes a few minutes a day but has a huge impact on oral health. If you skip it, you miss cleaning up to 40% of your tooth surfaces and put yourself at risk of gum disease, plaque and tartar build-up and eventually tooth decay, no matter how well you brush. So, in this article, we’ll explore what a difference flossing can make, how to floss effectively, and how you can make flossing a habit that, like your teeth, will last a lifetime.
How Important Is It to Floss Your Teeth?
The toothbrush is, of course, a wonderful invention, and one you absolutely need to make use of at least twice a day, but even this modern marvel has its limits – namely, the bits of the tooth you can’t see.
Essentially, each tooth has 5 surfaces, and when you don’t floss, you miss at least two of them. The sides of your teeth, areas where misalignment causes overlapping teeth, and back of the last molars (or wisdom teeth, if you have them) are some of the more obvious spots a brush can’t reach, and where interdental cleaning, such as floss, can be a huge help.
It’s important to remember that flossing is a vital exercise in gum health, too, meaning it’s about more than just dislodging trapped food. Rather, it’s about scraping clean the parts of each tooth you can’t see, including the part that curves up under the gum before reaching its root. While they may seem ‘sheltered’ by the gumline, these areas of the tooth are actually not sealed away from the mouth – nor anything you put in it – so are hot spots for debris, bacteria and plaque, which can cause tartar build-up and eventual decay.
If you’ve ever looked into the sink after spitting out your toothpaste and been alarmed to see blood, you might be even more likely to avoid flossing – but don’t stop! In fact, you should consider blood when you brush a sign you need to up your floss game. Bleeding from the gums can be a sign of gingivitis, or early-stage gum disease. Left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, a more serious condition that can lead to abscesses or infection, or even loss of bone and teeth. Work on developing a gentle, thorough technique, and bleeding should stop within a week. (Of course, if you’re concerned about bleeding that doesn’t respond to your efforts to improve your dental hygiene, let your dentist know).
Aside from helping you avoid gum disease, tartar build-up and tooth decay, flossing reduces discolouring bacteria, giving you a whiter, brighter smile, and can eliminate bad breath by removing odour-causing bacteria. As a big added bonus, just like regular maintenance on your car can help you avoid costly repairs, flossing can make a huge difference to the health of your mouth, meaning you’ll not only spend less time in the dentist chair, but your routine (6-monthly) visits will be far less invasive. Plus, by keeping cavities and decay at bay, you’re more likely to avoid dental surgery, limiting pain, cost and a trip to the hospital in the future!
When and How to Floss
First, find your floss: Waxed, unwaxed, minty, plain, charcoal, tape – there are SO many types of floss out there, it can be tough to know which to choose for your family. In general, it’s more important that you floss, than what you use. While some people find waxed floss glides over the tooth surface more easily, conversely, it can be thicker, making it trickier to pass between smaller spaces and more crowded teeth. Try out a few types to find the one you’ll be most likely to use every day of your life and keep it right beside your brush – no cheating and stuffing it in the deep dark corners of the bathroom cabinet!
Set aside some time – Ideally, you should floss every time you brush, and absolutely at least once a day. A good rule of thumb is to floss before you brush, and if you only do it once a day, do it before bed, during your nighttime routine.
If that’s not possible for any reason – life is never so straightforward, right? – That’s ok! If there were 3 little words that apply to flossing, they would be: JUST DO IT. Remember, too, quality is more important than quantity – that is, it’s better to do a thorough job of flossing your teeth before bed than to rush through three half-hearted flossing sessions a day.
Next, perfect your technique: To floss, grab about 15 inches of floss, and twirl an end around each index finger. Gently slide the floss between the teeth, and pull to one side in order to wrap it around each tooth in a “C-shape.”
Polish using an up and down motion, making sure you go beyond the gum line, up to where the tooth is actually anchored by the root. This technique ensures you scrape away build-up on the tooth, beneath the gum, and are not merely removing larger food particles. Repeat this process on each side of every tooth, and don’t forget to ‘lasso’ the very back teeth, too!
We’ve created a handy infographic to help you remember these flossing tips!
Is Flossing Really Necessary? Can’t I Just Use a Mouthwash?
Sorry to disappoint you, floss-phobes, but, in a word: no. While it’s true that some mouthwashes can soften plaque and stop it sticking to tooth enamel, think of mouthwash as a great finishing touch to your oral routine, and not a replacement for flossing. While flossing can seem like it’s not giving you ‘immediate gratification’ (compared to mouthwash, which can deliver a sometimes-eye-watering feeling of freshness), that doesn’t mean it’s not working! Only the scraping action of flossing can remove enough plaque to improve your mouth health in the long run.
The Right Age to Floss
If you’ve avoided these little strands of gum-health goodness your whole life, it can be daunting to begin flossing, but the reality is, so long as you still have teeth, it’s never too late to floss! Whenever you start, you’ll be improving your oral health from your first floss.
Don’t forget, too, the family that flosses together, grins together, so make sure you start teaching kids about the benefits of flossing – and the right way to do it – nice and early. As a general rule, when children are old enough to have teeth that sit side by side (2 to 6 years) they need to floss. Don’t make the mistake of thinking “oh they’ll lose those teeth anyhow” – remember, flossing, like most oral hygiene practices, is about gum health, and you only get one set of those!
Making Flossing a Lifelong Habit
We get it – you’re busy, and if you’re going to add another thing to your to-do list, you’d rather it be a little more fun than flossing your teeth. The good news is, once you develop an effective method, flossing should only take you about two minutes to complete. Add to that the three or so minutes you’ll spend brushing your pearly whites and it’s really just the time it takes to bop along to one track off your favourite album to get a smile that will last the miles. While adopting a new habit can require conscious effort at first, it won’t be long before its second nature.
Add dental floss to your grocery list as a staple so you never run out (let it replace something sugary for twice the effect!), remind yourself it’s only two little minutes that deliver a plethora of benefits, and before you know it, you’ll be getting a gold star from your dentist instead of dreading that inevitable question: “Do you floss?”
We know after reading this you’re keen to go get flossing (right?) But just a quick reminder, to ensure dental and oral health for life, it’s important to see your dentist every 6 months. Regular check-ups not only give your dentist a chance to clean your teeth and remove calculus like only a pro can, it’s also a chance for them to check for any signs of bruxism (teeth grinding), gum disease and even oral cancer, and intervene with treatment nice and early, so don’t skip your check-up!
You can book an appointment with the friendly Grange Family Dental team by calling (07) 3356 0166.
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This post was written by GFD