Flossing – we have heard the word quite so often on TV and social media. But wait, we are not talking about dance moves here, rather oral hygiene. We are talking about the technique that involves using a flossing thread to remove food particles and debris stuck in between teeth.
While the American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day, most of us do not do it, either because we do not know what it is or do not understand its significance.
If you are one of those who are not very clear on what flossing is all about, now is the right time to get in touch with your dentist to understand what it is for the sake of your oral health.
Selvi S, 51, from Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, recalls her experience on how flossing has benefitted her. “I have a crown in my lower molar (last tooth), and it has been a troublemaker for years. This tooth frequently gets infected and causes pain,” says the home-based entrepreneur. The situation would get worse when she ate meat—the meat particles would get stuck in the last tooth and were hard to remove with just brushing.
That was when she consulted her dentist, who taught her how to use a floss. “Dental floss helps to get rid of the annoying food particles that cause discomfort in your mouth,” says Dr Satwik Varadraj, periodontist and implantologist, Yenepoya Dental College, Mangaluru, Karnataka.
In the beginning, Selvi found the use of floss quite challenging. Since it was the last tooth, she could not reach it and flossing took time. Moreover, her hands would ache with holding the thread for a long time. Now, after having used it for almost five years, she feels it has helped save her from food lodgements and gum infections.
Flossing and gums
“The areas between the teeth are at higher risk for plaque formation and bacterial growth. This can lead to the formation of hard deposits in the roots of the tooth and can cause gum-related issues,” says Dr Babu Salam, a periodontist from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. It includes swollen gums, pain, tooth decay, tooth discoloration, and gum bleeding while brushing.
“Regular flossing helps remove plaque from the areas between the teeth and along the gum line, thereby reducing the risk of cavities and gum disease,” says Dr Varadraj. He adds that benefits of flossing include fresher breath and healthier gums, promoting overall dental well-being.
TYPES OF FLOSS
Thread floss is the most common type of floss. It is available in various forms – flavoured, waxed, and braided.
- Flavoured floss includes flavours such as mint and bubble gum, which give a pleasant feel in the mouth and encourages one to floss.
- Waxed floss can easily glide across the tooth due to its lubricating property and does not injure the gums. However, it is thicker than unwaxed floss and it might be harder to reach small gaps with it.
- Braided floss contains multiple strands of floss material, making it less likely to break during use.
Prefabricated flosses or floss picks are the easiest to use. They are small and have Y-shaped handles to hold for support.
People wearing braces, implants, multiple tooth crowns (tooth caps), and bridges find it difficult to use traditional flosses as they can interfere with the appliances. The disadvantages of traditional flossing methods can be overcome with water flossers.
Water flosser is a prefabricated machine with a tip at the end that delivers water. “When the tip is placed in between the teeth, a steady stream of water can reach the inaccessible areas and clean the tooth,” says Dr Salam. The benefit of flossing with water is that it does not hurt the gums. Moreover, the pulsating motion of water can massage the gums, thereby improving gum health.
“Another material called dental tape can be used to clean the undersurface of the bridges. It facilitates effective cleaning due to its thick and wide design,” says Dr Salam.
Experts say that flossing should be done twice daily before brushing. However, if you do not get time to floss on busy mornings, do it at least at night to obtain the benefits of flossing.
“One should have patience and good dexterity to floss properly. Moreover, gums are soft tissues and should be handled in a gentle manner while flossing,” says Dr Salam. He adds that flossing in a hurry might end up injuring the gums.
Benefits of flossing regularly
Older people are more prone to gum issues and tend to lose their teeth. Preserving the natural tooth is important to improve their dietary habits. A 2020 study conducted on 686 older individuals showed that regular flossing results in better oral health.
Among the study population, people who floss had lower levels of gum infection and better gum health compared to people who did not floss. In addition, they had lesser cavities. Researchers found that over five years, people who floss lost about one tooth while non-flossers lost about four teeth.
Who should not use floss
If you have sensitivity while using a floss, there may be an underlying gum issue or a hidden cavity. In such instances, stop using it and get a professional cleaning done by your dentist.