You, like me, probably need to floss more. And I’m not talking about the dance move. While I have no evidence or data to support this claim, I believe most people floss more (dancing) than they floss (their teeth) these days.
Up until about a month ago, I was one of those people that didn’t floss much (read as: like, ever). I was losing my dental insurance at the end of August, so I decided to take advantage of it and schedule a dentist appointment like a fully capable adult would do. I may or may not have avoided finding a new dentist after my childhood dentist retired a while back, so I was more than due for an appointment/rude awakening.
All my flossing neglect had finally caught up to me. My new dentist was concerned, and she scheduled a deep cleaning to help me begin to repair what was the beginning of gingivitis. It was super embarrassing – I usually put a lot of time and attention to my health, but I neglected something so simple. It was also super painful – I am extremely afraid of injections, so I didn’t get my mouth numbed with Novocain before the deep cleaning (I do NOT recommend this).
Since then, I have flossed religiously, mainly out of fear. At minimum, I’m flossing once a day before I go to bed. I also went a little crazy and ordered pretty much every dental hygiene item that Amazon had to offer: charcoal-laced floss, charcoal toothpaste, Sensodyne toothpaste, new mouthwash, and regular floss. My bathroom drawer looks like I recently raided a dentist’s office.
I don’t want my main motivator for flossing to be fear. Don’t get me wrong, fear is a very strong motivational tool – but if I’m going to keep flossing for eternity, I want to be able to enjoy the experience. I asked my frientist (AKA my friend who is a dentist), Jeri McCombs, DMD, to help me get over my fear and make friends with flossing.
Dr. McCombs has a great attitude and it’s always been clear to me that she loves her profession. If she didn’t live a state away, she’d be my dentist, and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to this point in the first place! She loves teeth more than anyone I know, and she’s great at answering silly questions. And I had a lot of silly questions. Below, she helps me answer a few of them.
Why don’t people floss more?
I honestly don’t know – but it keeps me in the job! A lot of people say they just forget about it. Some say it hurts, causes bleeding, they don’t like how it feels on their fingers. Most people I’d say just don’t have it incorporated into their routine, so they only do it when they have something stuck in their teeth.
What major (or even just annoying) issues come from not flossing?
If you think of your tooth like a cube, it has 5 sides that are up above the gum tissue. Two of those sides are touching other teeth, so brushing alone isn’t adequate to clean it. I know lots of brushes have “floss action bristles” and all sorts of other marketing schemes to tell you that it is cleaning there, but the truth is that the contact (the point where your teeth touch) can only be cleaned by floss or something else separating the teeth ever so slightly.
The main thing that come from not flossing is gingivitis, or early stage gum disease – which can progress to advanced disease without any pain or obvious signs, so make sure you’re seeing your dental professional every 6 months! Gingivitis is basically inflammation of the gum tissues: they become puffy, and bleed more easily, and are just generally unhealthy due to the increased number of bacteria from not cleaning between the teeth.
The other issue is cavities. It is VERY common to get cavities between your teeth, some people being more prone to it than others. That little bit of food/sugar/plaque that gets stuck just beneath the contact point can eat through your enamel and cause decay without being able to see it from the outside. This is why we take bitewing x-rays, it’s to see those cavities between the teeth. If you’re a flosser, you are SIGNIFICANTLY less likely to get those cavities!
Should you floss before or after you brush your teeth?
Truthfully I do not care, so long as it gets in there! Floss cleans by mechanically removing the buildup or plaque between the teeth, and it doesn’t matter if you do it before or after you brush. You can also do it any other time of the day! It is just as effective.
How often should you floss a day? If you only floss once, is morning or night better? Can you floss too much?
At least once – morning or night it doesn’t matter so long as it happens! Ideally, flossing after meals is best, but any dentist will be happy to hear if you just get in there once a day! You can’t floss too much, so long as you’re not abusing your gum tissues. Just get in there are rub along the tooth, don’t go jamming it down into your gums!
Any tips for getting into the habit of flossing?
Make it easy for yourself – keep some floss or flossers other places besides the bathroom. Floss during commercials of your favorite show. Keep a bag in your desk, and set an alarm on your phone. Use flossing as a good excuse to take a 2-minute mental hiatus from your day and take care of your body. Any time in the day where you have some downtime, make it visible and make it a habit!
Are any flosses better than others (basic string vs the handheld little guys, I’ve seen “charcoal lined” floss!)?
This is totally a personal preference thing. I personally use flossers (the little handheld guys), you just have to use them correctly, which involves pressing the floss against the tooth on each side. Floss should form a C-shape against the tooth. Try up and down pressed against one side, then again on the same contact but pressed against the tooth on the other side.
Traditional floss is the easiest to floss “correctly” with. If you have tight contacts, a dental tape will slip in easier, versus larger gaps may need something thicker, like woven floss. Floss sticks or picks are great, but don’t clean the contact itself. They should only be used gently and as an addition to, not instead of, floss. Also, water flossers can be great, but once again do not replace floss itself. Your dental hygienist is a pro at all these tips! Ask for a demonstration or how you can better keep your teeth and gums clean at your next visit.
Any other dental hygiene tips the average person should know?
Brushing two times a day is very important! Just because you brush once a day and haven’t had big time cavities, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to twice a day. The reason that we recommend 2x/day brushing is because that’s about how long it takes the bacteria in your mouth to produce a “biofilm.” Biofilm is basically a microscopic little home that bacteria build for themselves on your teeth. It takes 12 hours for this biofilm to calcify, making it hard, which then makes it impossible for you to remove with just a toothbrush. Excessive calcified biofilm builds up as tartar or calculus, which your hygienist has to remove with special instruments (the scrapey ones). Tartar is composed of bacteria and can contribute to bad breath that no amount of Listerine will kill, and tartar below the gumline is a one way ticket to gum disease or periodontitis.
Of all the time you spend in your day trying to be healthy, spend 2 minutes flossing each day. It takes less time than working out, costs less than eating healthy, and costs a lot less than extensive dental treatment. Gum disease (periodontal disease) is extensively directly linked to all sorts of other systemic diseases – particularly diabetes and heart disease. Keep your mouth and body healthy by keeping it clean!
See, I told you she was great at answering questions (she breaks it down for me by saying terms like “scrapey ones” and I appreciate that so much). I also asked Dr. McCombs for a couple of pro tips outside of flossing to keep my dental hygiene on point.
Jeri McCombs, DMD pro tips:
- If you want to try something natural to whiten your teeth, go with baking soda over trendy charcoal products or coconut oil pulling. Adding a little bit to your regular fluoridated toothpaste or choosing a toothpaste that contains baking soda has been proven to help whiten your teeth – sometimes even better than whitening toothpastes. It’s also much less abrasive than whitening toothpastes and will help protect your enamel from being worn away.
- Try to drink water after having something acidic and darkly colored (like coffee and red wine). It helps wash off some of the dark color and neutralize the pH or acid balance in your mouth and prevent staining.
- Brushing right after eating can actually damage your enamel. Dentists recommend waiting about 30 minutes or brushing before you eat. Whenever you eat, your saliva contains acid to help break down your food, and the teeth are ever so slightly microscopically “softer” (in a demineralized balance) so you may brush away a microscopic amount of enamel.
- Any soda is terrible for your teeth – it’s super acidic, even if you’re drinking diet. If you crave bubbles, try sparkling water. If you need caffeine, try a caffeinated water like Water Joe.
I’m still working on my new flossing habit, and for the most part, I’ve been consistent. Here’s to hoping incorporating a few of these tips will result in a much better dentist visit the next time around!