Flossing is the most neglected preventative measure available to people, yet it is one of the most important in your regime. Floss gets where the toothbrush cannot reach: in the warm, dark, moist spaces between the teeth where bacteria thrive.
Floss is merely a cord which helps loosen and dislodge the bacteria and food debris from between the teeth. It also acts to increase the blood circulation to the gum tissues, allowing natural healing agents to arrive at the scene of infection.
Dr. Moore recommends that you practice flossing once a day. The ideal time is at night just before you go to bed, as this is when your mouth tends to dry out and be most susceptible to bacteria. However, anytime of the day is better than never!
Types of Floss
Dental floss comes in a range of thicknesses, materials, colors and even flavors. As a general rule, the thinner the floss, the more easily it will glide through the tooth contacts. Wax is added to some flosses to aid in passing tight contacts. Also available are teflon tapes and super-flosses for flossing under bridges. There are even mechanical flossers which do most of the work for you. Visit any drug store to see the vast array of tools available to you.
Try to do the following:
- Dispense about one foot of floss from the container
- Wrap one to two inches of floss around the middle finger of each hand, and use the floss in between on your teeth. You can use your forefinger and thumbs to maneuver the floss inside your mouth.
- Press the floss in between two teeth and gently press downward (or upward if flossing your upper teeth) while moving the floss in a sawing motion horizontally across the width of the contact.
- Once past the contact of the teeth, pull your hand forward a couple of millimeters towards the front of your mouth (“wrapping the root”) and move the floss up and down.
- Next, push towards the back tooth and make the same movement.
- Repeat this procedure for each tooth, using a fresh portion of the floss for each tooth.
- If your gums bleed, it will take about five days of flossing once per day before the bleeding will no longer occur.
For Those with Special Needs
As mentioned, electric or mechanical flossers are available if you do not have the dexterity, finger movement, patience, or tolerance for fingers in their mouths. Alternatively, you can try tying the floss into a tiny loop on either end, making it easier to grasp and control the floss with your fingers.
While there are alternatives to flossing, they do not come close to being as effective in controlling the effects of plaque. However, there are some people who need a “something is better than nothing” alternative.
The water pick, or irrigator, can be used to debride the tooth of large particles of food and plaque. A water pick uses powerful bursts of water to remove food particles and other debris in hard-to-reach areas of your mouth. Studies have shown that consistent water pick use can decrease gum tissue irritation and inflammation, but does not actually reduce the amount of bacteria present. It is therefore better as an adjunct to flossing than as a replacement. It can be ideal for someone with braces where food can get caught in the brace mechanism.
Antibacterial rinses (over-the-counter and by prescription) are somewhat effective. Despite claims that Listerine is as good as flossing, there is no substantiated scientific evidence to support that claim. Listerine has been shown to be bacteriocidal (bacteria killing) but it has limited effect on plaque build-up.