As one of TV’s great doctors put it: Everybody lies. What’s one thing people are most likely to lie about? Whether they actually floss or not. Flossing has gotten a reputation as being a not-so-pleasant task. But, you need to floss your teeth to take the best care of your mouth and gums. Brushing alone doesn’t do the trick.
If flossing is a chore for you, you could be facing a number difficulties. Many people don’t know how to floss or aren’t using the type of floss that is most comfortable for them.
Why Bother to Floss?
If you want to thoroughly clean your mouth, you need to floss your teeth. Flossing removes any food bits and plaque that can get stuck on the sides of your teeth. While your toothbrush does a fine job of cleaning and polishing the front, back and tops of your teeth, a brush doesn’t reach between the teeth or get to the sides.
How to Floss Your Teeth
There are several things that keep people from flossing. One is a feeling that the process takes too much time. Another is a general dislike for sticking things between the teeth. A third is that some people aren’t sure how to floss or are afraid they will do it incorrectly.
Flossing isn’t difficult, but it can be uncomfortable if you do it wrong or if you choose a type of floss that doesn’t work for you. First, let’s review the best way to floss your teeth:
- Pull out a strand of floss that is about 18 to 24 inches long.
- Wrap most of the floss around the middle finger of one of your hands. Wrap the other end around the middle finger of your other hand.
- Hold the floss between your thumbs and index fingers of both hands, leaving about an inch of floss between your fingers.
- Gently slide the floss between your teeth, rubbing it carefully against the sides of each tooth. Don’t use a lot of pressure or snap the floss between your teeth. Using too much force or pressure will irritate the gums and make flossing uncomfortable.
- Once you’ve cleaned between one pair of teeth, wind the used portion of floss around the middle finger and unwind a small amount from the other finger. Repeat the flossing process with the next teeth.
- Make sure you floss between every tooth, even the teeth in the back of your mouth.
- Discard the floss once you’re finished, as you shouldn’t reuse it.
When to Floss?
Another thing that keeps people from flossing is not being sure when the best time to floss is. You’re meant to brush your teeth in the morning, after waking up, and in the evening, before bed. But when should you floss?
The answer is: It really doesn’t matter. Many people floss at night, after they brush their teeth. But some floss in the morning.
It also doesn’t matter if you floss before you brush or afterwards, as long as you do it. The trick is finding the time of day that works best for you. If you’re usually rushing in the morning, flossing at night might make more sense. If you’re usually bone tired at night and just want to fall into bed and sleep, flossing in the morning might be a lot easier for you.
Do You Have to Use Floss?
There are two main types of floss available and a variety of similar, floss-like products, such as small brushes meant to clean between the teeth and water piks, which use a pressurized spray of water to rinse the mouth clean.
If using traditional floss is too difficult for you, your dentist might advise using a handheld dental flosser or tiny brushes designed for use between the teeth.
If you decide to use regular floss, you can choose between monofilament or multifilament floss. Monofilament floss is one single strand. It’s often called comfort or easy glide floss because it tends to fit between the teeth easier and without shredding. People with teeth that are very close together tend to prefer it, as multifilament floss can get stuck or shred when used between tight teeth. Monofilament floss is more expensive than multifilament, or nylon, floss, but if it gets you to floss your teeth, the extra expense can be worth it.
What You Can Do if You Hate Flossing
Flossing. If the word sends shivers up your spine, you’re not alone. A recent survey from the American Academy of Periodontology found that 36 percent of people would rather wash the dishes, clean the toilet or do a number of other unpleasant activities rather than floss. Another survey, this one from American Dental Association, found that people often resort to using non-floss items such as their fingernails, strands of hair or safety pins to remove particles from between the teeth.
While few dentists would recommend using a safety pin or a piece of hair to clean between your teeth, there are suitable alternatives to the traditional string method of flossing. If you avoid flossing because you find it uncomfortable or difficult to do, here are a few dentist-approved, safe ways to clean between your teeth.
Sometimes called floss picks, pre-threaded flossers have a small plastic handle with a short length of floss stretched across the end. Since you don’t have to wind and unwind the thread around your fingers, floss picks can be easier to manipulate and to use. Some people prefer them to traditional string floss because the short handle on the pick means that you don’t have to put your fingers in your mouth while flossing.
Floss picks are particularly useful for people who have trouble flossing because they have limited use of their hands or for people who have smaller mouths and struggle to reach the back molars with traditional string floss.
Another flossing alternative replaces the traditional string with a stream of water. A water flosser produces a steady stream of water. It has a tip at the end that directs the stream of water between your teeth, removing pieces of food as well as dental plaque. Along with keeping the spaces between your teeth clean, water flossers can to reduce your risk of gum disease by stimulating the gums and improving gum health.
Water flossers come in a few different varieties. Some are battery-powered and portable while others connect to a large water tank and need to be plugged into an electrical outlet.
Like pre-threaded flossers, water flossers can be a good option for people who avoid flossing because they have difficulty doing so. It’s easier to direct a stream of water between the teeth than it is to wrap a piece of string around your fingers and slide it between the teeth. Some people also prefer the feeling of water between the teeth compared to the feeling of string.
You might think of an interdental brush as a miniature toothbrush. Except, instead of being meant for use on the surface of your teeth, the tiny brush is meant for use between the teeth. One benefit of interdental brushes is that they come in a range of sizes. You can choose a very narrow brush or a wider one, based on how much space is between your teeth. You can also use different-sized brushes in different areas of your mouth if the spacing between your teeth varies.
Interdental brushes are also a good flossing alternative for people who have braces. Along with getting rid of food trapped between the teeth, the little brushes can also help to remove food that is trapped between the teeth and the brackets of the braces.
Like a toothbrush, you can get several uses out of an interdental brush, as long as you take care of it after each use. Rinse the brush with water to remove any food particles and let it dry thoroughly. Replace the brush when the bristles start to look worn and frayed.
With so many alternatives to traditional string flossing, there’s no reason to skip cleaning between your teeth. If you are interested in learning more about your floss alternatives, your dentist can help you choose the method that’s best for you.
At your next teeth cleaning, discuss your flossing options with your dentist. He can show you the best way to floss or recommend the right flossing tool to use. Your dentist can walk you through the steps of flossing to help you master it and avoid any discomfort.
Miami-based periodontist Dr. John Paul Gallardo is available to answer any questions you might have about flossing, oral care, and oral hygiene at your next appointment. To schedule an appointment with the dentists, call 305-447-1447 today.