Do I Really Have To Floss?
Everyone knew this was coming, right? It’s a dental professionals favourite topic after all. The simple answer is the age old cliche – ‘you only have to floss the teeth you want to keep’. The problem, is that the plaque biofilm I explained in Brushing 101 grows between the teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach. If this plaque is left sitting between the teeth for any length of time it produces acid, and causes cavities. On an x-ray these cavities looks like a mouse has bitten into the side of the tooth. Gums also don’t like having bacterial goop sitting on them and get very red and angry, albeit without any pain. This is what we call gingivitis. I should probably mention gum disease, or periodontitis here too. Gum disease is much more complicated than simply not flossing, but it will certainly start leading you down that path should you take the risk. Alright, now that everyone is feeling the required amount of guilt, lets look at how to actually do it.
The good thing about flossing is that some really inventive people hated it enough to come up with some great alternatives. These days we have interdental brushes, horse-shoe flossers and electric jet sprayers just to name a few. With all of them, do it daily in the evening, just before brushing.
Flossing is great, and addictive once you see all the plaque coming out. I get my patients to wrap it around their fingers, pull it tight, form a ‘c’ around the tooth, and wipe. Practice really does make it easier in this case. If you just can’t get it, horse shoe shaped ‘floss on a stick’ are the next best thing. There are many brands out there, I usually recommend Flosspiks and Flossettes just because I know them well. They come in every shape and form imaginable, so pick what suits you. The same principles apply as with regular floss, just wipe the plaque away.
Interdental brushes (TeePee, Pikster)
Interdental brushes are tiny brushes that fit between your teeth up towards the gum line. If you have enough room, these are by far the easiest tool. They come in lots of different sizes. The correct size is the largest one that goes through without forcing it. Just be aware that the colour coding is not the same across the different brands.
Jet sprayers (Waterpik, AirFlosser, Oxyjet)
Jet sprayers are the new kid on the block. The idea is that a strong force of water will blast the plaque off the teeth. They are super easy to use, just point the nozzle between the teeth and press the button. Be prepared to be blown into next week by the spray though. The water can be switched out for mouth rinse with most models too.
The moral of the story is we don’t really care what you use, as long as you use something (we are not as easily fooled as most people hope though). Everyone has different sized gaps between their teeth, so there is no ‘best method’. The good news is if flossing hasn’t been your thing, start now, and the early cavities that are probably there can be remineralised.