YOU brush your teeth (and tongue) for at least two minutes twice a day, use fluoride toothpaste, gargle with mouthwash, replace your toothbrush every four months, and visit your dentist twice a year. Yet no oral care routine is complete if it doesn’t include flossing, or cleaning between the teeth with a thin, soft waxed cord.
A crucial part of oral health, flossing is also the least practiced habit across the board. Results from a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 32.4 percent of 9,000 American respondents never flossed; while findings from the University of the Philippines College of Dentistry reveal that flossing is next to nonexistent with nearly 90 percent of Filipinos suffering from tooth decay.
Clearly, even the most vigilant toothbrushing isn’t enough. “The goal of brushing and flossing is the same—to remove the accumulation of plaque, the sticky deposit on teeth where bacteria proliferate,” says Regina Isabel S. Morales, DMD of the Dental Medicine Department of leading health institute Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed, www.makatimed.net.ph).
“While brushing targets plaque on the front and back of your teeth, flossing removes plaque between your teeth and underneath your gums, where germs thrive. Leave plaque in these hard-to-reach areas and you set yourself up for cavities, bad breath, and even serious gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis.”
People with heart valve conditions are especially vulnerable to gum disease. “The bacteria in your mouth could travel through your bloodstream, find their way to your heart, and infect your heart’s valves,” Morales says.
Make the steps on improving oral health count and commit to incorporating flossing into your oral care routine. Here are some easy ways to do it:
Choose a time to floss. “Flossing once a day is recommended, and when to do it is a personal preference,” Morales, points out. “Whether you floss after breakfast or just before bedtime, what’s important is to stick to the habit so it becomes second nature, just like brushing.”
Consider flossing before brushing. In a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers discovered that when participants flossed their teeth before brushing, they significantly reduced the amount of plaque in their mouth and teeth, as compared to when they brushed first and flossed after. “The conclusion was that flossing loosens plaque and debris between the teeth, and brushing and rinsing with water and a mouthwash rids the mouth of these particles,” Morales shares.
Don’t like floss? Try these alternatives. If flossing feels uncomfortable or you can’t get the hang of it, there are other ways to clean between your teeth—and they get the job done just fine. “Interdental brushes are tiny toothbrushes soft enough to fit between teeth. A water floss is a handheld device that releases a strong jet of water to remove particles between the teeth. And floss picks or floss sticks are small handles with two end posts that hold a string of floss together. Instead of wrapping floss around your fingers, simply hold the floss pick handle and start flossing,” Morales explains.
When done daily, expect improvements in your overall oral health: Experts say that flossing can eliminate up to 40 percent of plaque from your teeth. But as effective as it is, it won’t take the place of a twice-a-year-visit to your dentist. “Semi-annual consults with your dentist to check for cavities and get a thorough professional cleaning are still the best way to ensure your teeth stay healthy and strong for years,” Dr. Morales says.
Lastly, do take note that once you have foul odor or bleeding upon flossing, there is a big chance that you may have periodontal disease or cavities that are causing these symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to visit your general dentist or seek help from a periodontist to carefully examine your teeth and gums and give you treatment recommendations for any dental concern you may have.