Most people make sure to visit their dentist at least twice a year to make sure they’re in good dental health. They are also likely to brush at least twice a day to protect their teeth and gums. But how many people remember to floss? Flossing is a key part of protecting dental hygiene, but it’s a step that many people skip. Some researchers think glossing over flossing is no big deal, but most dentists still agree that flossing is still a key factor in protecting dental health.
Even though dental professionals still promote the benefits of flossing, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deleted flossing from their long-standing health guideline recommendations. They did so over concerns that flossing lacked scientifically proven evidence showing its benefits.
Naturally, this action left the American Dental Association and its members a little upset. Dentists and dental professionals know that flossing helps to prevent tooth decay and infections of the gums by removing food particles that are left behind after eating. While brushing the teeth does remove the majority of these particles, the bristles of the toothbrush cannot reach all sides of the teeth, especially when teeth are positioned tightly against each other or are far back in the mouth, like the molars. In fact, the ADA states that flossing does 40 percent of the food removal necessary to clean the teeth.
If food particles are not removed from between the teeth, they break down or digest, in the mouth when they come in contact with saliva. A byproduct of this digestion is sugars and acid. Sugars that are created during this process feed the bacteria found in the mouth, causing the bacteria to flourish. As a result, these bacteria begin attacking the teeth and tissues of the mouth. This attack causes tooth decay and gingivitis. If left untreated, tooth decay and gingivitis can lead to cavities and gum infections.
The acid that is created during food particle breakdown causes the enamel of the teeth to become weakened, or erode. Acid erosion can lead to tooth decay, cracks, fractures and even yellowing of the teeth.
“Enamel loss as a result of acid erosion can also cause the teeth to become sensitive to hot and cold food temperatures,” Dr. James Erpenbach, D.D.S. said.
Erpenbach is a dentist and a proponent of his patients flossing. He reminds his patients at their checkups in his Knoxville, Tennessee, practice about the importance of flossing. He also works with patients to ensure they are practicing a proper flossing technique.
“Floss can reach where your brush can’t,” he said. “Teaching patients how to use the tools is more important than just telling people they need the tools.”
To floss properly, Erpenbach suggests starting with 18 to 24 inches of floss. Patients should wrap the ends of the floss around the index and middle fingers, and then place the floss between the teeth. Patients should work the floss back and forth and up and down to remove particles and take care to go all the down to the gum line.
Erpenbach and the ADA suggest that patients should floss at least once per day and brush twice per day. Both remind patients that regular and proper brushing helps to prevent sticky plaque from turning into tartar, a hard, bony substance that spreads the teeth and gums. It can also fill the spaces in between the teeth, giving bacteria another place to thrive.
Erpenbach is always happy to demonstrate proper flossing techniques and answer patients’ questions about flossing.
“The number one question about flossing I am asked is ‘Should I floss before or after I brush?’,” says Erpenbach. “It really doesn’t matter – just make sure you do it!”