What’s the Deal with Dental Floss?

What’s the Deal with Dental Floss?

First off, let’s get something straight: your dentist definitely knows whether you’ve been flossing or not. Even if you’re a diligent, dedicated brusher, you’re still missing out on the plaque that’s wedged its way between your teeth.

Contrary to popular belief, flossing does not prevent cavities — only brushing with a fluoride toothpaste does. What flossing *does* do is help prevent gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is caused by bacteria that get caught between your teeth at the gum line, which forms a tough, sticky “plaque.” The only way to get rid of this plaque is by flossing, but if the plaque hardens into tartar, the only way to get rid of it is by visiting the dentist.

Flossing is the most effective way to remove the materials that your toothbrush can’t reach. Over time, inflammation caused by gingivitis can increase the risk of periodontitis, or loss of the bone that holds the tooth in place. Inflammation from gingivitis can also increase your risk of heart disease, and there’s even some recent evidence that links gingivitis to Alzheimer’s.

Research also shows that most people floss incorrectly. While many people simply run the floss back and forth a few times between two teeth, and then move onto the next few, that technique doesn’t do much to get rid of plaque.

So, what’s the right way to floss? The floss needs to be pulled into a “C” shape around the base of the tooth right at the gum line, and then pulled up against the tooth in a scraping motion. Get this: that stroke should be repeated at least five times for each tooth. Most hygienists can do the whole mouth in less than a minute, but for an ametaur with closely spaced teeth, it may take up to 10 minutes or more. 

If that sounds like more than you’re willing to commit to, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only about two-thirds of Americans claim to floss, and of that total, a little bit less than half of them do it daily. So why don’t more people floss?

Whether individuals feel like it’s painful, cumbersome, time-consuming, or all three, it’s easy to come up with reasons not to floss — but nightly flossing, done right, is the absolute best way to remove plaque, reduce gingivitis, and cut down on emergency dental visits.

The best way to get yourself in the habit of flossing is to leave your dental floss in an easy to see location. If you’re thinking of skipping a session, remind yourself before, during, and after flossing about all of the good it does for your teeth. If you’re still struggling to stay consistent, you can always try a water flosser like the Waterpik, or use individual threaded flossers to help you stay consistent.