To Floss or Not to Floss?

To Floss, or not to floss?

That’s a good question. We’ve all been in this situation: You sit down in the reclining chair, eyeing the sanitized packages of instruments soon to be wedged into your jaws. The hygienist you’ve been seeing since you were 7 comes in and starts to ask how things are going. You proudly tell them that you’ve stuck to your commitment to brush twice a day instead of once, and that your mouth feels great!

“And how’s flossing going?”

You have no answer because… You don’t floss. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), only 12% of Americans actually follow a flossing regime. As for the rest of the country – who can blame them? Many people don’t have positive memories of flossing experiences. Go ahead, recall the memory; an old family dentist you never really knew well running blade-like thread through your teeth, sore and bleeding gums for the next three days, and immediately losing the itty-bitty complimentary floss they handed you on the way out the door.

If the practice is so unappreciated…why do we continue to subject ourselves to it?

Let’s jump back.

Of all modern-day hygienic practices, the use of interdental instruments (floss, toothpicks, etc.) is one of the only rituals that we can date back as early as prehistoric times. The excavation of ancient human skulls revealed that dental hygiene was a major focus of self-care, even when we were barely standing upright. Scientists have found tiny grooves and chips in between the teeth still set in the jawbones. Some speculate that wild horse hair may have acted as an early form of dental floss.

As time passed, so did our means of picking at our teeth. In medieval Europe, nobility even went so far as to have ornate toothpicks made. These picks were carved from precious metals, engraved with initials, embedded with rare stones, and even given as gifts.

Flash forward to the 1800’s and dental health was the growing field of study in the good ol’ USA. A New Orleans practitioner, Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, introduced the idea of using silk threads to get between the teeth of his patients. He went on to publish A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth, where he elaborated on the importance of using both brushing and flossing techniques in order to prevent gum disease. The concept of a new dental implement that can be used in one’s own home exploded, so much so that in 1898 Johnson & Johnson are awarded the first patent for household dental floss. There would be a half-used box in every household by the end of the century.

The options for getting between those pearly whites only increased from there. During World War II, the silk originally used in spools of floss was replaced with nylon in response to the depletion of silk in the USA. The 1980’s introduced tiny interdental brushes and scrubs for people who craved an extra-clean feeling. Today, you kind find an interdental instrument to suit your needs almost precisely.

You can see the trend – we’ve been picking at the stuff between our teeth for a long time. These days, you can customize your interdental experience down to how sharp you prefer your organic recycled toothpick.

But is it necessary?

Your dentist will say absolutely, and in many ways, they are correct. The purpose of an interdental tool is to reach debris that builds up in between teeth, in spaces that the everyday toothbrush cannot reach. By using floss or any number of tools, you aid in removing any food or plaque buildup around teeth, as well as make small areas of your teeth more accessible to a toothbrush. Flossing can also aid in preventing gum disease by loosening bacteria buildup around the base of your teeth. Additionally, adding flossing to your regiment can help to reduce a case of halitosis (an access of bacteria in the mouth that results in foul odor). In other words, yes. You should be flossing.

Not everyone is convinced anymore.

You heard me. New studies are suggesting that flossing, or any form of tooth-picking, may no longer be a necessary practice in your everyday oral hygiene routine. The use of interdental instruments, these studies suggest, is a technique-driven practice, whose success entirely depends on the accuracy and precision of the daily interdental instrument use. You could be flossing every day, as directed, and still see no change in your oral hygiene if you’re not ‘doing it right’. In an article published by the ADA in August of 2016, hygienists now face the challenge of not only convincing their patients to floss, but teaching them to floss correctly.

How do you do it?

The team at MG Dentistry & Rejuvenation Clinic are more than happy to show you step-by-step how to get in between those pearly whites, but here are some tips until your next trip:

• Use a long piece of floss, about 14”-16”, and wrap a few inches around one middle finger. Wind the rest around the opposite middle finger, leaving about 1” taught between your fingers.
• Using your index fingers, gently guide the floss between each tooth.
• Run the floss up and down the side of each tooth, from the tip of the tooth to the gum line. Repeat on each tooth.
• As you move through your mouth, wind up the used floss on the finger with less thread, while releasing another inch or so from the finger with more. This way, you are always flossing with fresh thread.
• Don’t forget your molars! Despite their being short and uninvolved in biting/tearing your food, give those little guys a once-over while you’re in there. They are just as susceptible to breeding bacteria, plaque, and gum disease.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – flossing hurts. That’s because your teeth are not used to it! Like most other new practices, you have to ease yourself into the practice – walk before you run. Here’s what to do if you’re just starting up:

• Set up a schedule for flossing. Your mouth will be sensitive to this new habit, so instead of floss every day, floss Monday/ Wednesday/Friday first, once a day. This will help your mouth get used to the sensation. As you experience less discomfort, add another day to the schedule until it’s a once-daily habit.
• Don’t force floss into your gums. Floss is not meant to dig deep and draw blood every time you use. The floss should slip, if at all, just beyond your gum line. If you find your are bleeding frequently, chances are you are flossing incorrectly. Consult your dentist or dental hygienist for a proper lesson.
• Don’t floss more than necessary. Professionals agree that once a day is plenty. Over-flossing can lead to redness, soreness or bleeding of the gums, receding gums, or infection.

So, are you completely off the hook for flossing? No, not at all. In fact, the ADA encourages you to continue flossing despite these recent reports. Instead, talk with your hygienist at your next cleaning. The team at MG Dentistry & Rejuvenation Center is happy to give you a quick and easy lesson to keep that smile healthy and beautiful.

— Chloe Bluml, Blogger for MG Dentistry & Rejuvenation Center