1 in 3 Australians have never flossed in their lives and 30% admit they only brush their teeth once a day, so with so many of us skipping the daily clean is flossing as important as we’re led to believe?
Flossing, in case you’re in the first statistic, is the process of cleaning of the spaces between your teeth using a string. It removes food debris and plaque that may be lurking interdentally which, if left to hang around can cause dental upset.
The majority of the surface area of our teeth is actually between our teeth, so it makes sense to ensure that it is kept clean, yet so many of us merely focus on polishing the outside and forget about the inside.
In 2012 the Australian Dental Association commissioned a study to investigate the condition of teeth in Australia and the results were alarming. The study found that 57% of Australians will develop an irreversible form of tooth decay which, with proper dental hygiene and avoidance of sugary food and drinks, would be avoidable. It also found that tooth decay contributes to a $2 billion annual loss in productivity at work and school. That’s a lot of sick days!
If the idea of losing your teeth causes you to break out in a cold sweat then you will be happy to know that the likelihood of tooth decay can be reduced with the addition of flossing to your daily routine.
What is flossing?
As mentioned earlier flossing is simply the cleaning of the space between you teeth with a piece of wax string or other flossing device. Cleaning between the gaps removes bacteria causing debris and helps your gums stay healthy and irritation free.
What happens if I don’t floss?
If you don’t floss, interdental plaque will build up between your teeth and below your gumline. This can cause gum irritation and lead to bacterial infection causing gingivitis and gum disease. If plaque is not removed the bacteria within it produces acid, which when combined with food causes tooth decay. Hardened plaque will turn into calculus and tartar which can only be removed by a professional.
Tools for flossing
There are a variety of tools you can use to clean between your teeth depending on their condition and your personal preference.
The most common and traditional form of floss is string. There are two types of string floss- Nylon (or multifilament) floss and PTFE (monofilament) floss.
Nylon floss is made up of multiple strands tightly pressed together which can shred and break apart in tight sections of your teeth. Because of this multifilament floss is often cheaper. PTFE floss is one single sting and is shred resistant. Both types of floss can come waxed and unwaxed and come in a variety of flavours, the most common being mint.
If hooking a piece of string around your mouth isn’t appealing then you can opt for a more nimble option like a flossing stick. This disposable tool has the floss string between a ‘u’ shape frame to help you get right in between your teeth with just one hand.
Another single handed option is an interdental brush. This tiny brush resembles a bottle brush and is small enough to get between your teeth and brush away lurking plaque. The brush can be made of plastic or natural fibres.
The last option for flossing helps if you can’t fathom the idea of squishing anything between your teeth at all. Sonic air cleaners are the latest development in flossing and remove debris by pushing a small burst of air between each tooth forcing the food or plaque to dislodge.
Do children need to floss?
If your child is consuming solid food and has teeth, then flossing should be included in their dental care routine. A dental hygienist can go through this process with you if you are unsure of how to approach baby teeth.
How to floss correctly
If you’re not familiar with flossing then it’s best to ask for a demonstration from your dentist, but if you’re ready to get started straight away then here are the steps outlined by the Australian Dental Association to get the most out of interdental cleaning with wax string floss.
Step 1: Wrap about 45cm of floss around your middle fingers and rest it across your thumbs and index fingers. You can also wrap the floss around your index fingers if it feels more comfortable.
Step 2: Open your mouth and gently slide the string in between the teeth using a slow sawing motion. Be gentle to avoid traumatising the gums.
Step 3: Don’t forget to clean the “neck” of the tooth, which is the point at which the tooth meets the gum line. Angle the floss gently down the side of the tooth and slide it gently under the gum. Flick the string upwards to dislodge any plaque.
Step 4: Continue to clean in between each tooth. Don’t forget to get right to the back of your teeth.
Step 5: Rinse your mouth out after completion to give it once last clean. You may like to do this with water or mouthwash.
You may find that during the flossing process that your gums bleed. If you are experiencing bleeding gums then it may be time to pop in for a professional clean.
When should you floss?
Before or after brushing? That is the question!
As a general rule it’s best to floss your teeth after your brush them. This way the majority of food will have already been brushed away and you can focus on the sticky, lurking bits hiding in between. If you are extra concerned about getting on top of your dental health, then you can floss after each meal, but always floss before bed to avoid food debris having an overnight stay in your mouth.
While flossing may seem time consuming at first, with practice it will seamlessly blend into your daily brushing routine. Remember preventative care is the best form of dental care, so visit us every six months for a professional clean and check-up.