Your oral hygiene is one of the most important predictors of your overall health. And while we all make sure to use a toothbrush to brush our teeth every morning and every night with fluoride toothpaste, the story is a little different when it comes to flossing. Not only is it one of the most overlooked parts of your oral hygiene, but many times, we tend to do it wrong.
We are here with a guide to help you floss and remove debris most effectively. Find out the importance of flossing, whether you should floss before or after brushing, and which flossing techniques you should follow for your best dental health.
What Happens When You Don’t Floss?
Flossing is something we know we should do but often skip out on, contributing to an increase in dental plaque, especially near the gum line. While we may have a general idea of why flossing is important, we don’t always have the full picture of why this is such an essential step for the care of your teeth.
As dentists, there’s a reason we’re so passionate about flossing on a regular basis. Your mouth is home to thousands of (mostly harmless) bacteria, which can sometimes take over in the form of plaque or lead to infection. Essentially, plaque is microfilm that forms over the teeth and gums and exists in some amounts for everyone.
However, poor oral hygiene can cause too much of it to form, leading to various issues with your oral health and tooth enamel. Here are some of the most common problems associated with plaque build-up.
Tooth decay is a process that gradually begins with damage to the outermost layer of your teeth, otherwise known as the enamel. Plaque bacteria release acids, which can erode the surface of the teeth and lead to a small opening in your tooth. When this happens, you have a cavity, which will need to get filled in. Otherwise, it can spread to the deeper layers of your tooth and require a root canal.
If plaque builds up for too long, it can mix with the naturally-occurring minerals found in your saliva and harden into tartar, a rough deposit that forms around your teeth and gums. You can easily remove plaque at home with toothbrush bristles, but tartar binds strongly to the teeth and needs to be removed with professional cleanings. While it’s relatively harmless if addressed quickly, tartar is one of the leading causes of receding gums and can be a sign of gum disease if left unchecked.
If tartar begins to build up on your gums, you may experience gingivitis—a form of gum disease. Although it’s relatively mild, it can lead to more severe forms of gum disease if not treated immediately. Some symptoms of gingivitis include swollen gums, bad breath, and even some mild bleeding.
Periodontitis usually results from gingivitis that has not been taken care of properly. It’s caused by a severe build-up of plaque, tartar, and other bacteria between your gums, which can reach down to the bone that supports your tooth. Aside from damage to your oral health, periodontitis has been linked with over fifty diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
In general, poor oral health care may contribute to multiple chronic conditions. For instance, too much harmful oral bacteria can cause inflammation in the body and contribute to various cardiovascular conditions. Lung disease has also been linked to poor oral hygiene, as breathing in bacteria during sleep can damage the lungs.
While there are plenty of complications associated with poor dental health, many of these can be avoided by following a good oral hygiene routine with the proper order. Brushing, flossing, and rinsing with fluoride mouthwash is recommended for everyone. Read on to find out how to build your best oral hygiene routine and ward off signs of gum disease.
Should I Floss Before or After Brushing?
It’s actually recommended to floss before brushing so that you can remove pieces of food and plaque in-between your teeth before you go on to brushing. Plus, it’s a step that’s more likely to be skipped if you don’t do it first.
Use a length of floss that makes it easy to get to the nooks and crannies. This means going slow and giving each tooth all the attention it needs. And instead of going up-and-down, go around each tooth using the c-shaped technique (more on this below).
After you’re done flossing, you might think you’re ready to move on to brushing your teeth with concentrated fluoride toothpaste. But actually, you want to use your mouthwash before moving on to this step. Brushing your teeth distributes toothpaste ingredients that are meant to stay on the teeth for hours. Using a mouthwash immediately after brushing can rinse away fluoride, the remaining toothpaste, and the effect of toothbrushing.
As dentists, we think that you should follow any flossing routine rather than none at all. For this reason, if your routine is different but still works for you, we’re on board.
Just as there’s a right and wrong order to the flossing-rinsing-brushing sequence, there are right and wrong techniques for flossing your teeth. Here are three recommendations we have for flossing in the most effective way possible.
1. Floss at Least Twice Per Day
It’s common knowledge that you should floss at night before bed. After all, a whole day of eating is more than enough to cause food particles to build up between your teeth, which should be removed before you drift off into a peaceful slumber of (we hope) at least eight hours.
But did you know that plaque forms while you sleep? This is because we tend to have reduced salivary flow while sleeping, which means there is less saliva working to clear bacteria out of our mouths. This leads to increased plaque formation, which is why it’s a good idea to floss in the morning, too.
If you notice that you develop more-than-normal amounts of plaque during the day—which increases if you consume a lot of sugar, smoke, or have a dry mouth—then it’s a good idea to increase your flossing even beyond the standard twice-daily recommendation.
2. Floss Gently
With the above recommendation, you may be wondering if it’s possible to floss too much. While the answer is typically no, it can be too much if you’re not being gentle with your flossing technique.
Many of us tend to roughly drag the floss back and forth between the teeth. However, this can irritate your gums and lead to various problems. Be gentle when flossing. It might even help you to do it in a vertical motion by starting at the top and slowly bringing it down to the base of the tooth.
3. Use the Right Floss
There are many types of floss, ranging from the most basic dental tape or toothpicks to the high-tech power water flossers. We think that whichever type of flossing method you prefer is best. After all, the best kind of floss is one you’ll use consistently.
That said, don’t let its simplicity deter you from using regular string floss. It’s definitely the most economical option, and it’s best for avoiding reusing floss that has plaque on it. Plus, if you’re using waxed string floss, it will be easier to slip the floss in and out, making for a more pleasant flossing experience.
The Right Flossing Technique
We may be used to sliding floss up and down, but this is not the most thorough technique for cleaning up plaque. Here are the five steps we follow for the most effective cleaning:
- Break Off the Floss: If you’re using regular string floss, you should break off at least 20 inches of it. This is how much you’ll typically need to floss all your teeth.
- Wrap It Around Your Middle Fingers: Wrap the ends of the floss around your middle fingers, making sure to leave your index fingers free (you’re going to need them!). Leave about two inches of floss for your teeth.
- Gently Floss Your Teeth: Glide the floss in-between your teeth in a vertical motion, making sure to get both sides of each tooth. Just make sure not to go up too far into your gums.
- Use the C-Shape Technique: It’s not enough to glide the floss vertically. You also want to get the plaque build-up at the base of your teeth. To do this, form your floss into a c-shape using your index fingers and gently floss around the curvature of each tooth.
- Use a Fresh Piece of Floss for Each Tooth: Because used pieces of floss have plaque on them, you want to make sure that you’re using a clean section of the floss with each tooth.
Flossing keeps your teeth and gums free of plaque, prevents tooth decay and gum disease, and can even stave off chronic disease. For this reason, we always recommend proper prevention when it comes to your dental health.
But in case your routine isn’t failproof, then Flossy has your back with the most skilled dentists in their field to diagnose and treat any dental problem.