There’s an old saying that you should only floss the teeth you want to keep. But a lot of us don’t like to floss. There’s something about the process that makes it seem like more of a chore than some of our other dental must-dos. A 2016 Centers for Disease Control study showed that 32 percent of Americans say they never floss. But avoiding flossing can mean big problems for your teeth and gums. Here’s a look at why flossing is essential and how you can make it part of your routine.
Why Is Flossing Important?
There’s nothing like flossing for removing those hard to reach pieces of food from between your teeth. When those particles hang out, they create opportunities for bacteria to grow. Flossing helps reach plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach, preventing tartar buildup and gum disease.
What Happens If You Don’t Floss?
Whenever you floss, you get a clear picture of what you’re missing with brushing alone. You can see the food particles and gunk that come out on your floss. Yes, there’s an ick factor. But think about what happens if you leave that stuff between your teeth. Avoiding flossing can lead to:
- Gum disease: if you don’t remove food particles and plaque from between your teeth, it creates a breeding ground for the bacteria that lead to gum disease. And gum disease is a significant factor in tooth loss.
- Bleeding gums often come from a buildup of plaque at the gumline. Regular flossing can help remove that plaque and prevent bleeding.
- Cavities: brushing with an ADA-accepted toothpaste is an essential part of preventing cavities. Adding flossing boosts your brushing routine by getting to food and plaque where your toothbrush can’t reach, helping to prevent decay.
- Tartar is a hardened mineral substance that builds up on your teeth when you don’t remove plaque. Only your dentist can remove tartar effectively, so prevention is the best policy. Combined with diligent brushing, flossing can help prevent tartar buildup by getting rid of that plaque.
- Bad breath: when bacteria start to grow, the food that gets left behind begins to smell bad, leading to bad breath. Flossing is the best way to remove hard to reach food particles.
Is It Too Late to Start Flossing?
It’s never too late to start flossing. Ideally, we recommend starting in childhood. Parents can help young children floss, and by the age of 10, most children should be able to floss on their own. If using a traditional thread is challenging, plastic floss holders are useful for young people and others who may have trouble with dexterity. But flossing becomes even more critical as we get older. Our risk of gum disease goes up as we age, so flossing can make a big difference even if you start later in life. And remember, when parents floss regularly, it sets an excellent example for their kids.
How Often Should I Floss?
The American Dental Association recommends flossing once a day. You can do it before or after brushing at whatever time of day works for you. However, we should note that there’s nothing like flossing before bed to get everything that builds up during the day. Remember to go gently. Flossing shouldn’t be painful, but it may be a little uncomfortable as your gums get used to it. Once you make flossing a habit, it starts feeling good. Many of our patients can’t call it a day until they’ve flossed.
What Type of Floss Should I Use?
There’s a range of floss types available, and we recommend using the one that works best for you. For many of our patients, using a flat Teflon floss like Glide can make a big difference. It slides easily between the teeth and doesn’t tend to get stuck. Plastic flossers can also work well for kiddos, folks with dexterity challenges, and people with larger fingers. ADA-approved interdental cleaners and some power water flossers are good alternatives if flossing doesn’t work for you.
Not a Flosser? Talk to Your Dentist
As dentists, we see every day what a difference flossing makes. And yes, your dentist can definitely tell if you’re not flossing. But at Greenhill Family Dental Care, we’ll never judge you. We know that it’s a habit that takes a shift in mindset. But it is never too late to build flossing into your oral hygiene routine. We can give you the tools and tips you need to make it part of your day. And once you’re hooked, you won’t want to skip a day.