You know flossing is important for your dental health because your dentist tells you every time you go for a visit. Maybe you’ve even been really good and stepped up your flossing game to daily status. This time, the dentist will give you a pat on the back, you think to yourself as you walk up to your routine appointment. The visit starts out pleasant enough. Then, out of nowhere, you hear that old familiar refrain:
“You need to floss more.”
The wind is knocked out of you. “But Doc,” you say looking her straight in the eye so she knows you mean it. “I really have been flossing daily.”
How did you get here? Is there no pleasing the good doctor?
Only one-third of Americans say they floss daily, with another third admitting they floss ‘rarely’ or ‘never ‘. But if you’re only brushing, you’re only doing half of a good oral hygiene regimen. Unfortunately, even those who have integrated the good habit mostly fall into the latter group. If you are one of that 33 % who flosses regularly…good for you! Whether you use a water flosser or good ol’ dental floss, you need to verify that your flossing techniques are correct.
Does this sound familiar?
You pick up the floss spool, pull out a piece of the waxy string. You wrap one end of dental floss around a finger on one hand and the other end around a finger from the opposite hand. Then, you wedge the string in-between two teeth, all the way down to the gum line before bringing it back up, wiggling it gently through the crowns of your teeth where they lightly touch. Or maybe you go the Y-shaped pick route with the string taut between a plastic prong, and shimmy that between your teeth down to your gum lines.
If so…you’re doing it wrong. But, if you’re going to do it, might as well go all the way and reap the most rewards from it. This ‘up-and-down’ approach, sometimes referred to as the ‘snap method’ is not ideal because teeth taper inward as they approach the gumline, which widens the space between them. The gap between most teeth forms an inverted triangle-shaped space — as opposed to a vertical, even ‘sheet’ of space. Maybe you even go the extra mile and lightly scrape the gum line in that space. Still, the whole perimeter of the triangle needs to be scrapped. If it isn’t, bacteria gets left behind, leaving you vulnerable to cavities, gum inflammation, and a whole host of other periodontal issues. The approach outlined above doesn’t cover all the surfaces that need to be addressed with flossing. There are many ways you can floss, such as with water flossing, but for this, we’ll be going over the basics of flossing with dental floss. So how does flossing work?
How to Floss:
1. Thread the floss around the tooth
Wrap the floss around the tooth so that the string is actually in two crevices at once — one on each side of the tooth. Then, work the string like a cartoon character works a towel when they are drying off after a shower. This will dislodge any food debris that may have become settled in there, eager to start a microbe family. It will also ensure that the sides of your teeth are fully scraped, covering the surface area of two sides of the inverted triangle.
2. Scrape the full length of the gum line between teeth
Be sure to also thread it through every crevice and gently scrape the gum line as well as the undersides of the teeth. To remove bacteria that can irritate the gums. If you haven’t done this in a while, your gums may bleed. This should go away after a few days of regular flossing, so don’t let it put you off. If anything, stay extra on top of it. Bleeding is a sign that you have already gone too long without flossing, making it extra important to stay committed.
3. Get under the gums where you can
You can get the floss passed where the tooth visually meets the gum line because the gums don’t attach to the tooth exactly where they appear to visually, This tucked area is extra important. Cavities that occur here are harder to treat, and when unchecked, plaque in this area can do damage faster as this part of the tooth is not protected with as much enamel. But you don’t have to push hard in this area, just as far as it feels comfortable.
4. Slow down
Even those who are really great about flossing consistently probably aren’t giving this habit enough time and care. Every tooth wrap should then be guided up and down the full height of the tooth to ensure the full underside is addressed 8-10 times. We bet even the most type-A folks reading this aren’t hitting that benchmark. Because plaque build-up can be sticky, sometimes going over it once won’t do the trick.
Brush and floss or floss, then brush?
Many dental professionals recommend flossing first, then brushing. That way, whatever plaque or food particles get dislodged will be removed in the brushing process.
Other dental professionals go about it the opposite way, but if you’re including both in your daily dental hygiene regimen, you’re probably going to be alright. And how often should you floss? Everyday! Treat this habit the same as you would with brushing and you can be sure that your dental health will be in check.
Good oral hygiene isn’t hard to achieve once you make it a regular habit. Just start integrating flossing into your dental hygiene routine and committing to it, as you do with brushing twice a day. This will be your best bet in combating decay and supporting strong teeth, healthy gums, and a smile worth flashing for years to come. And if the traditional waxy string isn’t something you can get used to, check out these alternatives to flossing!