I feel that at some point in your life you’ll be told this line by your dentist when you ask how can you clean your teeth better and it’s one of the biggest misconceptions about cleaning. Similarly, after informing patients they have a lot of plaque in their mouth, sometimes we got blank looks and were told “but I floss three times a day”. People perceive flossing as the magic wand, that somehow flossing would solve all their dental problems. Dentists are also guilty of using this as an excuse to explain why patients have such bad oral hygiene. I believe in common sense, so here is my take on flossing.
I have patients who don’t floss but have clean teeth. Vice versa, I have patients with poor oral hygiene who floss. Either flossing wasn’t the solution or my patients weren’t flossing correctly. Somehow we lost sight of what we were trying to do. Most gum and teeth related problems involve bacteria. The goal is to remove bacteria around our teeth. Realistically we will never be able to remove 100% of bacteria but we want to keep them to the minimum. Flossing is just one ancillary tool to achieve this.
Do you need to floss?
Your dentist is the best person to advise you on that. This largely depends on each individuals. I don’t believe everyone needs to floss and I certainly don’t tell all my patients to do so. If your cleanliness is adequate; there’s no bleeding or inflamed gum; you’re seeing your dentist regularly with minimal tartar to remove each visit and you’re not flossing at home already, then so be it. “If you’re not flossing, you’re leaving 40% of bacteria behind.” This statement is correct, but I judge the need to floss from signs of disease in the mouth. If flossing becomes a hassle without adding any significant benefit, then why do it?
In reality, most people’s oral hygiene is far from adequate. The interesting thing is, it often has nothing to do with flossing or not flossing. People with poor oral hygiene are mostly inadequate brushers. Either they don’t get the brush on the right spot (brushing but not actually removing bacteria) or they simply don’t brush often enough. The more I talk to patients the more I realise that brushing twice a day isn’t as common sense as I thought. We need to learn to walk before we run. Same goes to learning to brush well before incorporating flossing into daily routine.
Before you kid yourself into thinking you don’t need to floss, here’re a few common reasons when I suggested my patients to floss:
– Your teeth are crowded and there’re tight spaces between overlapped teeth that toothbrush will never get to.
– Your dentist told you that you have early decay between your teeth. You’re already on the back foot. Any extra cleaning in these areas should not be taken lightly.
– Your teeth have spaces that tend to pack food and plaque in between.
– You have prostheses such as bridges or implants in your mouth. In this instant, you may need to use Super floss.
If you floss nowhere else, at least focus on these areas.
Is floss the best tool to use?
Using floss can be a challenge and sometimes not the best thing to clean between teeth with. Having floss on a handle can be easier to use.
Sometimes having a prosthesis that connects a few teeth together such as bridges means you can’t pass floss through between teeth. There is a variation of normal floss called Super floss. This type of floss has one stiff end which can be treaded through between teeth or underneath the bridge.
When cleaning large gaps between teeth, I find there are better products which I tend to recommend to my patients. They are called interdental brushes. I will discuss these products in the next post.
To your healthy smile