Do you floss? Or do you smile and nod when your dentist tells you to but secretly know that you’re never going to even open the floss sample they’re handing you?
If you’re the latter, don’t worry because you’re not alone. A survey from the CDC found that almost 70% of Americans don’t floss daily, with 32% saying they never do.
In this article, we’ll review why, when, and how often we should floss; then cover the proper technique to make it more effective and less painful.
What happens if you don’t?
This scenario may sound familiar. You brush your teeth twice each day with fluoride toothpaste and make your regular visits to the dentist.
But then, you still are met with the unwelcome news that you have a cavity or symptoms of gum disease.
Cavities and gum disease are caused by the growth of bad bacteria that live in our mouths. These harmful bacteria fall into two camps, cavity-causing and gum disease-causing bacteria.
The cavity-causing bacteria eat the food particles on our teeth (usually sugars and carbs) and release acid. This acid slowly leaches minerals from your teeth, weakening them and eventually causing irreversible loss of your tooth enamel. This damage can lead to cavities and teeth sensitivity.
The gum-disease causing bacteria die in the presence of oxygen (anaerobic species), so they hide in plaque and below our gumlines around our teeth. These bacteria release toxins and other nasty byproducts that lead to infection and inflammation. Over time, this inflammation will develop into gum disease, such as gingivitis or periodontitis.
Daily flossing helps to reduce the presence of this bacteria. In a two-week study of twins, researchers found that the twin who only brushed their teeth and tongue had an abundance of harmful bacteria in their mouths. However, the twin who added flossing to the routine had much less.
Why should you floss?
Only about 60% of your teeth surfaces are available for your toothbrush to clean. The other 40% are stuck in the crevices between teeth, so you can’t clean them properly with a brush. Even electric toothbrushes can’t get into those minor cracks.
Flossing (or some type of interdental cleaner) allows you to clean this 40% of your teeth.
It also helps kill gum disease-causing bacteria in two ways. The first is by breaking up the plaque and tartar where they hide. The second is by dragging them up from below your gum line, exposing them to oxygen which kills them.
How many times a day should you floss?
The American Dental Association (ADA), the American Academy of Periodontology, and most dentists will tell you that once a day is enough. Some people especially prone to bacteria growth could benefit from more than that, but most people do just fine with once a day.
When is the best time to floss?
The best time to floss is whenever it’s most convenient for you. The most important thing is to floss your teeth at least once a day. The time of day that you do it doesn’t matter as much.
So pick a time and build it into your routine so that you don’t forget.
Should you floss before or after brushing?
Either way works as long as you do a good job.
Flossing before brushing can be a good idea because it helps ensure that all the bits of debris are washed away when you brush and rinse.
Plus, you may be more likely to do it. If you choose to floss after you brush, you might decide your mouth feels clean and end up skipping the floss part.
Regardless, you can choose what works best for you.
Ideal flossing technique
If you are someone who hates flossing, it might be because you aren’t using the correct technique. When done correctly, flossing should be painless.
You can follow these steps for the perfect floss.
Step One: Prepare the Floss
Cut off about 18 inches of floss. Wind most of it around the middle finger on one hand. Wind the rest around the same finger on the other hand.
Grip the floss between your thumb and index finger on either side.
Step Two: Clean Your Teeth
Gently guide the dental floss between your teeth, making a slight scraping motion along the side of each tooth. Never jab your gums, or you can damage them or cause them to bleed.
Work through your whole mouth (don’t forget about the back of your last tooth). As you work, pass the floss from one hand to the other so that you’re always working with a clean section, since dirty floss can spread bacteria.
A common mistake is applying too much pressure to your gums, which can cut them and cause further damage.
We have more information on how to brush and floss correctly here.
Build a Healthy Habit, Enjoy a Healthy Mouth
As you can see, both brushing your teeth and flossing should be part of your daily oral hygiene routine. Thoroughly cleaning all the surfaces of your teeth is the best way to cut down on plaque, tartar, and the nasty bacteria that can inhabit them.
Are you wondering how you’re doing? Is there a proliferation of harmful bacteria growing in your mouth? There is an easy way to find out!
Simply send us a saliva sample, and we’ll give you a report of all the microbes living in your mouth, known as your oral microbiome. It’s an easy way to step your dental hygiene routine to keep your teeth healthy and strong!