The American Dental Association recommends that people floss at least once per day. If you fall short of this metric, you are not alone. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the first nationally representative analysis to determine people’s flossing habits. They found that only 30 percent of Americans followed dentists’ orders to floss daily. Just over 37 percent reported flossing occasionally, and 32 percent of participants said they never floss.
Perhaps this is because many people have the misconception that flossing is not essential. But that is far from fact. Flossing can contribute to the maintenance of your oral hygiene by as much as 40 percent.
Benefits of Flossing
Hundreds of species of bacteria live in your mouth, some helpful and some harmful, and your hygiene regimen is important to ensure that the bad ones don’t take over. A regular toothbrush cannot scrub between your teeth to reach the harmful bacteria that erode your enamel and gums. The overgrowth of harmful bacteria can cause a variety of oral health issues. Gum disease, tooth decay and bad breath are the more notable results of not flossing regularly, but more serious conditions can also develop.
For example, chronic inflammation of the gums can lead to periodontal disease, which can result in tooth loss. In some cases, the bad bacteria that form in your mouth can spread to other parts of your body and contribute to diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and even heart disease.
When And How To Floss
You can floss before or after brushing, as long as you rinse afterward to get rid of the tiny particles of food, bacteria and plaque that flossing dislodges. However, some professionals argue that it is best to floss right before brushing your teeth if you are using toothpaste with fluoride. This is because rinsing after brushing reduces the mineral’s effect. Also, the fluoride in your toothpaste can do a better job protecting your teeth when particles are removed by flossing first.
Unlike brushing, you typically only need to floss once per day. However, you need to floss even if your teeth seem clean or you can’t feel anything stuck between them. Plaque usually hardens on the teeth within 24 to 36 hours, making it much more difficult to remove at that point. The time of day you floss doesn’t matter as much as remembering to do it, but many people prefer to floss at bedtime to prevent food particles and bacteria from remaining on the teeth overnight.
To floss correctly, break off a large strand of floss that is at least a foot long, and wind it between two opposing fingers until it shortens to just one or two inches. After placing the dental floss in between the teeth, make sure to glide it gently up and down the side of each tooth. It should curve at the base of the tooth to create a C or backward C shape on each side. This will allow the floss to gently enter the space between your gums and each tooth. Don’t try to push the floss down into your gums. Flossing “harder” won’t lead to better results. In fact, it can bruise or scratch the gums.
In addition to traditional strands of floss, you also have an array of alternative options, including disposable flossers, electric flossers and water flossers. Disposable flossers are popular choices for younger children who may struggle to maneuver the strands between their fingers or between each tooth. Electric flossers and water flossers provide similar convenience with the added benefit of less waste, though they tend to cost more upfront.
Signs You’re Not Flossing Correctly
If you skip your flossing habit often or do not floss correctly, it will show. Bleeding gums are the biggest sign. If you experience this while you are flossing, or while a dental technician flosses your teeth during a checkup, it suggests you are not flossing frequently enough. The acids and bacteria in your mouth have made your gums extremely sensitive and have begun to create little wounds that bleed when the floss rubs against them. Additionally, if your gums are swollen (appear puffy) and are tender or painful to the touch, you likely are suffering from gingivitis, which also can result from an inadequate flossing routine.
Bad breath, or halitosis, can be another signal that something is wrong with your flossing frequency or technique. By the time you notice a bad smell or an unpleasant taste coming from your mouth, an overgrowth of bacteria already exists in your oral microbiome. In addition to the symptoms being embarrassing and uncomfortable, they indicate that you are at risk for developing cavities and gum disease. Rather than reaching for a breath mint, go for a piece of dental floss to address the root cause of the problem.
How Do I Floss While Wearing Braces?
Unfortunately, flossing can be more of a challenge while wearing braces. Waxed floss is easier to use with braces because it is less likely to get stuck. Carefully thread the floss under or over the main wire, and pull it through so there’s enough slack on either end to grab it. Wrap the floss around the ends of your fingertips so that a tight strand forms between them.
Slide the floss up and down the side of each tooth and down into the gum to the point where it no longer moves but does not cause pain or bleeding. You want to use a scrubbing motion to remove the plaque from each side of the tooth. To remove the floss, just grab one end and slowly pull it through, as you will not be able to lift it over your wire.
Floss Accommodations for Orthodontia
A water flosser is a popular alternative to traditional dental floss and is often recommended for people wearing braces. It is a hand-held device that you fill with warm water that streams out of a specialized tip. To use, simply trace it around your gum line. The pulse rate of the emitted water removes food particles and plaque very similarly to dental floss. Water flossers come in rechargeable and battery-operated models and have a variety of tips to choose from.
Another option is known as a spiral dental, or interdental, brush. This small, hand-held device contains a wire with bristles–available in a variety of sizes–designed to fit between the teeth. This can be a good option for people wearing braces because it inserts at the gumline, which avoids contact with the archwire.
If you want to use regular floss, but have difficulty reaching into your mouth with the floss and moving it between teeth, consider using a floss threader–a flexible piece of thin plastic with a large loop at the end. This utensil allows you to put your floss through the loop and pull the threader through the space between your teeth.
Whichever apparatus you use, it’s important to floss every day to prevent the build-up of plaque that can lead to cavities, gum disease and other health issues. If you’re concerned about maintaining your flossing routine while in braces, be sure to talk to one of our board-certified orthodontists during your free consultation.