Flossing probably isn’t a favorite part of the average person’s daily hygiene routine, but we all know we should be doing it — mostly because our dental hygienists remind us every time we see them. Even if you don’t like doing it, flossing is important for your dental health. If you’re the type of person who thinks ‘there must be another way,’ every time you’re fussing with a long, waxy and less-than-pleasant piece of string, we’re here to tell you — there are other ways. After all, while the tried-and-true string threading is considered fairly effective for removing plaque from those hard-to-reach underside surfaces of your teeth, there are other methods available on the market that are proven to be just as effective if not more effective… partly due to the fact that people don’t mind adding them to their daily oral care routine. From water flossers to dental picks, we’ll explore alternative methods and products available on the market. The American Dental Association recommends you use some kind of interdental cleaner to clean between your teeth where your toothbrush is missing, it does not have to be string floss. (read ADA recommendation HERE)
Interdental brushes are small, toothpick-style sticks with rubber bristles on one end. They are passed through the tiny gaps between your teeth in the area near the gumline. The nice thing about interdental brushes is that they are designed so that the bristles are flexible enough to fan out while being flossed between the teeth while remaining comfortable for the user. There are tight spaces between the teeth that regular brushing almost completely misses.
Interdental brushes are convenient, easy to use, and increasingly gaining support from the dental community as being just as effective in preventing gum disease as string flossing. However, there are some potential limitations that can make it less optimal for folks with specific dental needs. Because they are larger in diameter than dental floss, they don’t fit as easily between teeth that have crowding issues because the spaces between those teeth are generally smaller than with straight-aligned teeth. If they do, they could be missing the tooth surface that is tilted slightly away due to the crowding. That surface can be covered by traditional string flossing if done correctly. However, if crowding is not an issue or is very light in nature, interdental brushes are a great flossing alternative for people who find the traditional string flossing method offputting.
Dental picks are rising in popularity because of how convenient they are and because they eliminate one of the more unpleasant aspects of string flossing (which is, of course, avoiding the used piece of string as you go).
A dental pick looks like a hooked toothpick that has a Y- or U-shaped end. Between the two prongs (of the Y or the U) is a taut piece of floss string. The pick piece of it, which is the part the user holds, makes it easy to maneuver the string between your teeth as well as work it along the small gumline between teeth. They can also be used to get into that little crevice where your gum line meets your teeth but is not attached.
One drawback of dental picks that has drawn some criticism in recent years is that like interdental brushes, dental picks are one-time use disposable products that aren’t ideal from an environmental standpoint. As a result, a number of reusable dental picks have hit the market. Some of them have replaceable heads, like shaving razors do, while others take it a step further and make the entire pick and prong piece reusable. With these products, the user hand threads the floss through the prongs with each use.
Additionally, dental picks are often tapered on the handle side, forming a point. This point doubles as a toothpick that can be used to trace the scalloped edge of the gumline with more precision…or when you need to get something out from your teeth after a meal.
If both dental picks and interdental brushes both sound like good options, don’t despair. Hybrids of the two dental floss alternatives exist, with one end of the pick having the y-shaped prongs threaded with floss and the other end consisting of the small rubbery bristle brush of the interdental brush.
Water Picks/Water Flossing
Water picks are what many dental professionals often recommend when a patient finds string floss too difficult to use or they present with a lot of bleeding. Water picks differ from traditional flossing methods as well as some of the alternate methods already covered here in that they work by running a small, pressurized stream of water between your teeth.
There are several upsides to water picks. For one, the continuity of the applied pressure from the water stream is better able to dislodge larger food debris, compared to other methods. Additionally, if you’re just starting out flossing regularly and your gums are irritated and bleeding easily, water flossing can curtail this unpleasant effect of flossing. Water flossing tends to be gentler on the gums as there is no ‘scraping’ agent. Instead, gums are massaged after they’ve been rescued from destructive microbes. This makes a perfect alternative for those who have sensitive gums.
Water picks are possibly among the most effective methods for getting the surfaces and gumlines between your teeth. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that a study group who used water flossing had an overall plaque reduction rate of 74.4%, whereas the control group in the study, who relied on string flossing as their primary method, only had an overall mouth plaque reduction rate of 57.7%. While there is more research that needs to be done on this subject, statistics like that was enough for the FDA to approve this alternate flossing method.
There is one drawback of water picks which may disappoint those with insatiable wanderlust or that take frequent business trips. Water picks are fairly clunky, so portability is a potential issue. But if that requires a back-up case of floss in the travel bag…so be it. There are also manual versions of water flossers that are fairly portable albeit more limited in terms of options compared to the more stationary, automatic versions.
A secondary drawback of the water pick is that they tend to be the pricier option of all the alternatives to flossing out there. Generally, an average water pick costs around $55.00, though they can be found for cheaper as well as for quite a bit more expensive, depending on what features, parts, and functionalities are included. These additional bells and whistles are great for people with dental implants or braces, as many of these add-on accessories are specifically designed for deep cleaning while accommodating these variables.
Not a Good Alternative: Toothpicks
Despite the name, toothpicks are generally not considered good substitutes for flossing. For one, they are too large to effectively scrape the inverted triangle, leaving gaps along the surfaces that flossing and water flossers are able to reach. Relying on toothpicks as a flossing alternative is not optimal (kind of how Q-tips aren’t really great for cleaning your ears, but that’s how they’re primarily used anyways).
So if doing the ol’ finger wrap flossing method just hasn’t integrated itself into your daily routine, consider trying out some of these alternatives to flossing. With all the options on the market, your dentist is right when they say there are no excuses for not flossing. Even if you don’t know how to floss correctly, there are simple flossing methods that make it easy for you. Depending on factors like your budget and the specifics of your personal oral hygiene needs, there are options out there that can ensure you are getting into those hard-to-reach spots that brushing often misses. Integrating flossing into your daily routine can prevent discoloration or yellowness along the gumlines and in the spaces between the teeth. But more importantly, it can also prevent cavities and decay, gum disease, and other potential consequences on your health.
But Don’t Forget: There’s No Substitute for Regular Dental Check-ups
Even with these precautions in place, don’t forget that they are no substitute for regular trips to the dentist. After all, you can’t easily see all the angles within your mouth the way a dentist can, and letting a dental issue go unchecked for too long can lead to bigger problems downstream.
Just like the points on that inverted triangle of space between your teeth, there are three solid points of dental care that are essential for good oral hygiene. The first is brushing twice a day minimum. The second is flossing — and with the proliferation of many choices in this arena, there should be an option out there that suits your specific needs. Lastly, having regular check-ups with your dentist to catch any issues brewing while they’re still in the early stages of development will ensure that your teeth are in the healthiest, most long-lasting, and beautiful form they can be for years to come.
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