Understanding Proper Flossing Techniques and Why it Matters
Flossing is pretty straightforward, right? You’ve been told to do it, and have been doing it religiously since early childhood (we hope). Unfortunately, there are a lot of mistakes to be made when it comes to flossing, and those mistakes can be costly.
To help ensure that you are getting the most out of your daily flossing, let’s take a deeper dive into the world of interdental cleaners, what are they, which are best, how to use them, and why the proper technique is essential to your oral health.
We floss to remove plaque from between our teeth. If left alone, plaque can build up. Plaque can contain more than 500 bacterial species, and although not all those species are bad for your mouth, the ones that aren’t good can cause major problems like gum disease and tooth decay if not removed.
Although some recent studies have questioned how helpful flossing truly is, the American Dental Association and the CDC remain steadfast that flossing helps to keep gingivitis and tooth decay at bay. Studies show that this is the right stance since significant increases in overall oral health were found in patients who flossed.
Daily interdental cleaning is a vital part of your oral hygiene routine, and when you floss is important to keep up your oral health. Ensure you commit to flossing at a time you can ensure it will happen, whether that is first thing in the morning, just before bed, or even after lunch.
Look into Your Options
Flossing isn’t as plain as it used to be and it's important to pick the right tool just like you took the time to research the right dentist. Nowadays you will come across several types of floss or interdental cleaners that can be used to remove plaque from between teeth. Not all of these cleaners are created equal, so let’s take a look at your options to help you understand the importance of making the correct choice.
In the old days, floss was made from silk fibers twisted to form a long strand. Today it is typically made of nylon or plastic. The FDA considers floss to be low risk and therefore doesn’t regulate it much.
Floss can be waxed or un-waxed, contain flavoring agents and may be made with other materials as well. There is no difference in effectiveness based on additives like flavoring agents and wax. It’s all about the feel and your personal preferences.
Because floss is thin and flexible, it is user-friendly, which is important since all age groups need to use it. Floss is also the oldest of the interdental cleaners, so it has a lot of research backing its use.
You probably know dental picks best as the metal utensils used by hygienists to clear plaque from your teeth at your semi-annual checkup, but these devices are available for public use as well. They come in the metal you’re used to, as well as softer plastics and wood. Many picks are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
Using a dental pick is a great way to remove plaque, but it’s not always easy to keep from injuring yourself, as most picks are quite sharp. Remember, the dental community has been trained on how to properly use this equipment, so make sure you fully understand the proper technique before you begin to use them at home.
To use a dental pick properly, start at the gum line and place the pick between teeth. After that, you simply pull toward the biting edge. Make sure you do this process gently to avoid pain or bleeding gums.
The dental pick is great for those with braces since it fits nicely between teeth and braces better than traditional floss. Dental picks aren’t the best overall choice, however, since they only have one pick that will go between teeth. Having only that one point means that your pick may transfer bacteria from tooth to tooth.
Tiny (Interdental) Brushes
Interdental brushes are a great alternative to flossing for those people who find flossing difficult, like those with limited mobility, people with braces, or people with large spaces between their teeth.
Interdental brushes come in a few different shapes, typically thin, round, or cone and have a small head with bristles. The brushes have special handles to allow for easier gripping. The handles can be short or long like a toothbrush, and they come in a variety of sizes so you can choose the option that fits best for your teeth.
To use an interdental brush, simply insert the bristled end between the teeth gently, and then move the brush back out of the space. Just like a toothbrush is rinsed after use, you should rinse the brush after it is done cleaning between each tooth.
The brushes should be replaced when the bristles wear off or when the wire holding the bristles in place becomes bent.
Water flossing is done with a handheld device that sprays pulses or streams of water between teeth. Water flossers have more recently gained the American Dental Association’s seal of approval, and have been found to be effective at clearing plaque from between teeth.
To use a water flosser, ensure that you have enough water in the reservoir to complete the task at hand. Select the correct tip for you, if necessary. Next, lean over the sink and start out with the lowest pressure setting. Before you turn on the machine, ensure your lips are closed enough to prevent splashing.
You will want to aim the tip of the flosser at the gum line, and slowly move from space to space to ensure that the water is able to clean out each space properly. If necessary, you can increase the pressure on the machine, but make sure that you do not increase it too much, or you could cause irritation or injury.
Water flossing is a great choice for people who have trouble with string flossing. If you’ve had dental work that makes flossing difficult, like braces or permanent bridges, you may want to try water flossing.
How to Choose
The right interdental cleaner for you is based mainly on personal preference. Although you will need to understand how to use every one of these devices properly before you begin, your choice is personal.
The American Dental Association still advocates for string flossing, as this method is tried and true. It is a technique that works for almost everyone, and that does the absolute most thorough job of clearing plaque from between teeth. That doesn’t mean they haven’t given their seal of approval to all of the devices above, though.
For individuals with braces or other dental work that makes flossing difficult, the best options would be water flossers or interdental brushes. For those who have disabilities or mobility issues, or even for kids just starting out with oral care, dental picks may be a good choice. They are easy to use and manipulate.
The only interdental cleaners that you should avoid using entirely are those without the ADA seal of approval. That means those of you who have used a fingernail, hair, paper, knives, or safety pins to clean between teeth need to put them down and find a proper cleaning tool.
Using tools not meant for cleaning between teeth can do more damage than good, and with all these options available, you should be able to find one that works for you.
Technique is Key
Whether you choose to floss, use an interdental brush, or go another route, the technique you use to complete the task at hand is of the utmost importance. Improper use of any oral health tool can lead to injury to the teeth and gums, which may eventually cause gum disease and/or tooth decay.
Also, using the right technique will reap the most benefits. Undoubtedly some of you have been frustrated when you have done everything “right” at home, but still, end up with an extra-long plaque removal service at the dentist or worse, with cavities. The cause could be improper methodology.
The key is to be gentle and never snap floss or pull too hard on dental picks because you don’t want to cause open wounds in your mouth. If bacteria from the teeth and gums make their way into your bloodstream through open wounds, you can wind up with negative effects on every organ that blood touches, including the heart.
Putting it all Together
Now you know all of your options when it comes to daily interdental cleaning. You know how to use these tools, why it’s important to use the correct technique, and why it matters.
Remember that you are the most important part of keeping your mouth healthy. Pick a time to floss that you can stick with. Choose the method that works best for you and your lifestyle. Learn the proper technique to use your tool of choice and talk to your dental team if you have concerns or questions.
The most important thing is that you clean between your teeth. Now that you have all the information, how you choose to do so is up to you.