“My gums bleed when I floss, so it stops me from doing it.”

“I’m using an electric toothbrush that does a great job, so I don’t need to floss.”

“I don’t have time to floss.”

“Do I really need to clean in between my teeth?”

These are just a few of the many questions and statements that I receive from patients regarding flossing and cleaning in between their teeth. Most patients already do a great job incorporating brushing into their daily routines, but seem to struggle when it comes to flossing and cleaning in between the teeth. The answer is YES, you do need to floss! Let’s talk about the importance of flossing or using other interdental cleaners to maintain optimal oral health.

A few years ago, some news reports questioned the benefits of flossing your teeth. As your Dental Hygienist, I want to emphasize that cleaning in between your teeth is not only import to support your oral health, but also important in maintaining your overall health! The mouth is a very harsh environment that can contain over 500 species of bacteria (1). Some of the harmful types of bacteria can lead to gum disease as well as tooth decay. Unfortunately, brushing alone cannot effectively clean in between the teeth. This is where flossing and other interdental cleaners come into play!

In my opinion, the string dental floss or dental tape is the most effective tool that you can use to clean in between the teeth. There is no difference in the effectiveness of waxed or unwaxed floss. However, I have found that most patients have a much easier time using waxed floss. I also like the traditional string floss because you have the ability to contour the floss around the tooth and underneath the gumline. It’s best to use a piece of floss that’s between 12 and 18 inches long. You can hold your strand of floss in one hand and gently wrap the remaining floss around you’re your middle finger on your opposite hand. Allow yourself to work in one inch increments. Ideally, you’d like to hug each side of each tooth while gently moving the floss up and down. If you’re new to flossing, you may notice that your gums may feel a little sore and they may also bleed. Don’t let this alarm you. As your floss more, this should subside. If the bleeding and soreness does not subside, please let us know at your next dental check-up.

Although I personally feel that dental floss or tape is the best tool to use in between the teeth, it’s not the only tool that you can use. In fact, the best tool to use is the one that you will actually use on a daily basis. This may come in the form of a hand-held flosser, small brushes, special wooden or plastic picks, or a water flosser. When choosing the right interdental aide, it’s important to consider the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This means that there is scientific evidence that demonstrates the safety and efficacy of the product that you are using. For a list of ADA approved interdental cleaners and other products, please visit
www.ada.org/en/science-research/ada-seal-of-acceptance/ada-seal-products.

The most important thing to consider when cleaning in between the teeth is finding what works for you. The ADA recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes and cleaning in between your teeth once a day. As long as you’re doing an effective job, it doesn’t matter if you brush or clean in between the teeth first. As a rule of thumb, it’s always a good idea to clean in between your teeth before you go to bed at night to avoid leaving behind any food particles or bacteria while you sleep. Most interdental cleaners are disposable. Only use them one time to avoid using a product that may have lost effectiveness or re-introduce harmful bacteria back into the mouth. For more information regarding interdental cleaners as well as a video on flossing, please visit https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/flossing.

Emily H. , RDH
Red Oak Dentistry

Citation
1. American Dental Association. Federal Government, ADA Emphasize Importance of Flossing and Interdental Cleaners, 2016, www.ada.org/en/press-room/news-releases/2016-archive/august/statement-from-the-american-dental-association-about-interdental-cleaners.