Look we get it. Don’t be afraid to admit it. Flossing your teeth isn’t very much fun to do. Like exercising and eating well, we are more likely to talk about it and plan to do it rather than actually doing it. What we hope you realize is that flossing is the most important at home oral health care procedure you can do on a daily basis. You read that correctly. Flossing is more important than brushing multiple times a day. This is because the areas of your mouth that toothbrushes fail to reach are the ones where plaque buildup is most dangerous. Neglecting these areas can lead to eventual gum disease and tooth loss in spite of regular brushing.
Writing off flossing as unimportant is a costly mistake. Flossing is vital to good oral health. It is equally vital to your overall health, particularly if you plan on living a long and healthy life. The inflammation caused by plaque buildup has strong links to heart disease, strokes and even dementia.
Opting not to floss because you don’t know how to do it well or because it is painful are unacceptable excuses. Flossing is not easy; however with a few tips, some sage advice and plenty of practice even you can become a floss boss. If flossing is a painful and bloody affair for you, the inconvenient truth is that the very reason you are experiencing that discomfort is a direct result of your existing plaque buildup and the inflammation it is causing near your gums.
Tip 1 – Determine the Right Floss for You
Like our mouths, not all flosses are created equal. Understanding the floss that is best suited for your mouth is the first step in becoming a more effective flosser. How does one figure this out? Trial and error. Various brands and specific types of floss may suit you better than others. That depends on the spacing between your teeth. As a general guide we would recommend the following:
Tight Spacing and Crowded Teeth – waxed floss is coated with a thin layer of wax thereby making it easier to maneuver in between tightly spaced teeth. If you feel you need more specific floss, look for keywords such as thin or small on the packaging or product description.
Varying Spacing Between Teeth – If some of the spaces between your teeth are fairly large in contrast to others, a ‘super floss’ or ‘ultra floss’ is highly recommended. These types of flosses expand and contract depending on how tightly you hold it to allow for thinner or thicker floss.
Sharp Edges – If you find that the usual dental floss you use ends up getting caught on sharp edges of your teeth and frays you are likely using nylon floss, which has multiple strands. You should opt instead for waxed single filament (PTFE) floss and these are far less likely to shred.
Tip 2 – 18 Inches Before Bed is Ideal
When trying to determine the right amount of floss needed for your entire mouth, 18 inches is the rule of thumb to abide by. This length allows you to dedicate incremental parts of the floss for each new space between teeth and behind your last molar in all four quadrants of your mouth. For more effective flossing begin with the majority of floss wrapped around the middle finger of one hand and progressively unspool it for new floss as you move through your mouth. If you floss once a day as is recommended, opt for doing so at night. This ensures that there is very little for cavity causing bacteria to feed on overnight.
Tip 3 – Think About the Letter ‘C’
The fundamental purpose of flossing is to remove plaque and build up between teeth and below the gum line. In order to move and manipulate the floss effectively, you should hold it firmly between your index finger and thumb on both sides. Using a gentle back and forth motion, move the floss into the space between your teeth slowly until you reach the gum line. Once there, imagine creating a ‘C’ around the contour of each tooth using the floss. Move the floss back and forth and down to pull plaque away from the gum line. Create the ‘C’ shape around the other tooth and repeat the motion. This process should be repeated twice within the same crevice (one side for each tooth). Do this around each tooth including the back end of each of your final molars.
Tip 4 – Follow Up With a Rinse
Regardless of whether you floss before brushing or after (as is our recommendation), you should always follow up flossing with a thorough oral rinse. Flossing does release plaque from between your teeth however it does not remove it from your mouth completely. Swishing a fluoridated mouthwash after each flossing session will kill lingering bacteria and ensure that you flush your mouth of what you worked so hard to floss out. If mouthwash is not an option, rinsing with water is still recommended. Plaque that is left to linger can be swallowed and wreak havoc in your body. Remember, oral plaque is the same stuff that clogs arteries and eventually leads to heart attacks.
Tip 5 – Take Your Time, Practice Makes Perfect
As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, flossing is no easy task. Beyond getting used to the feeling and technique, the spaces between our teeth differ in size and position, requiring a level of attention and detail that some may be uncomfortable with. Properly flossing your entire mouth can take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. Be sure to take the time to make the practice a daily habit as routine as brushing and your morning coffee. As with anything, focused practice will make you a better flosser.
If you experience pain, bleeding or are having issues flossing, consult your dental professional. Don’t hesitate to ask your dental hygienist for a flossing tutorial or better yet a critique of your current technique. Their advice will help immensely.
Photos: Oral B UK