Ask the doctor: I hate flossing. Is it Really Necessary?

Q: Is flossing REALLY necessary? I don’t usually get food stuck between my teeth. A friend uses a Waterpik instead. Is that better for me?

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Is flossing a necessary evil?

A. Though using water to flush out food lodged between teeth is helpful and comforting, it does not replace the necessity to floss.

What most people are unaware of is that the importance of flossing is not to remove trapped food particles as much as it is to get rid of dental plaque. It removes substances that your toothbrush cannot reach. Relying on teeth cleaning at the dentist’s office twice a year is not sufficient and a bad idea.

Dental plaque is a collection of bacteria living on the surface of teeth. By allowing plaque to linger, you are at risk for:

  • Gingivitis-gum inflammation
  • Foul mouth odor
  • Dental cavities
  • Tooth decay
  • Periodontal disease
  • Loss of teeth

An additional issue, which most people don’t realize, is that allowing the Strep bacteria to fester in your mouth, could lead to endocarditis – a serious heart disease. This occurs by the migration of strep into your bloodstream from your mouth.

 

How to Floss Properly

According to the American Dental Association, flossing is done as follows.

Withdraw around 18 inches of floss from the container and wrap it between the middle fingers of each hand. Then grab the floss between your thumbs and pointing fingers. Insert the floss between each tooth gently, and then move the floss up and down while the floss is firmly positioned against the tooth. Follow the shape of the tooth as you go and repeat for each tooth until done.

 

Types of Floss

Floss is available in 2 types depending on what it is made of:

1) Nylon (or multifilament) floss

  • Composed of several nylon strands
  • Available in a range of flavors
  • Comes waxed and unwaxed
  • Less expensive type

The drawback here is that this floss may shred or separate in tight spots.

2) Monofilament floss

  • Glides more easily between teeth
  • Shred-resistant
  • Inserts without difficulty in tight spaces

Both types are highly effective at plaque and debris removal. Choosing the type to use is based on personal preference.

For those who are not able to floss properly due to hand problems or lack of coordination, there are floss holders that make the process easier.

Toothpicks are not recommend as a floss replacement. While it may remove some trapped food particles between teeth, it doesn’t address the issue of plaque buildup. Worse still, the toothpick may break and lodge between teeth spaces, adding to the problem.

When flossing is not part of your daily hygiene routine, it can seem time-consuming or awkward. However, after performing the procedure for a month, it will be second nature.

Make this your New Year’s resolution.

The best part is the reward you get for better teeth, a healthier mouth and good news from your dentist at your next checkup!