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Still Not Flossing? More Reasons Why You Should

We know you hate it, but flossing really does preserve the health and aesthetics of your smile. Here's how to do it right.
By
WebMD the Magazine - Feature

Every six months, you visit the dentist for a cleaning -- and likely a lecture about the importance of flossing. But if you're like many dental patients, the advice travels in one ear and out the other -- much like, well, dental floss gliding between the spaces of your teeth.

"There is no instant gratification with flossing -- that's the problem," says Alla Wheeler, RDH, MPA, associate professor of the Dental Hygiene Program at the New York University School of Dentistry. "Patients don't think it does anything."

But flossing does about 40% of the work required to remove sticky bacteria, or plaque, from your teeth. Plaque generates acid, which can cause cavities, irritate the gums, and lead to gum disease. "Each tooth has five surfaces. If you don't floss, you are leaving at least two of the surfaces unclean," Wheeler explains. "Floss is the only thing that can really get into that space between the teeth and remove bacteria."

Flossing, Wheeler says, might also be an overlooked fountain of youth. Gum disease can ruin the youthful aesthetics of your smile by eating away at gums and teeth. It also attacks the bones that support your teeth and the lower third of your face. People who preserve the height of that bone by flossing look better as they age.

Choosing the Right Dental Floss

Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If your teeth are close together, try thin floss (sometimes made of Gore-Tex) that bills itself as shred resistant.

Bridges and braces call for a defter touch to get underneath the restorations or wires and between the teeth. Use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle. Or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.   

The most important thing, though, is to choose floss you'll use. "I tell my patients, 'I don't care if you use shoe laces as long as you floss,'" Wheeler says. (Just kidding, of course.)

Flossing Tips

Keep it clean with these flossing tips from Edmond Hewlett, DDS, associate professor of restorative dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry:

Perfect your flossing technique. Use a piece of floss 15 to 18 inches long, slide it between the teeth, wrap it around each tooth in the shape of a "C," and polish with an up and down motion.

Don't worry about a little blood. "Bleeding means the gums are inflamed because plaque has built up and needs to be cleaned away. Don't let that deter you," Hewlett advises. Bleeding after a few days, however, could be a sign of periodontal disease. Talk to your dentist.

Get a floss holder. If you lack the hand dexterity to floss, try soft wooden plaque removers, which look similar to toothpicks, or a two-pronged plastic floss holder. Both allow you to clean between teeth with one hand.

Reviewed on March 01, 2012

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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