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Why Flossing Is a Must, Not a Maybe

It’s estimated that a very low percentage of Americans actually floss once per day. The people that don’t floss once per day, but want to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, are missing an important part of their oral care routine. Brushing twice daily for at least two minutes is good, but you have to clean between your teeth too. When you don’t clean between your teeth by flossing, you are only cleaning about 60 to 70 percent of your tooth’s surface.

If you don’t floss daily, plaque will build up and harden into tartar. Tartar is hardened plaque that makes your teeth look yellow near the gumline. Only a dental professional can remove tartar using special instruments. The bacteria in plaque and tarter will create an acid that will eat away at tooth enamel and cause cavities. It will also irritate your gums, possibly causing gum disease.

Gum disease always starts as gingivitis, which is the mildest form of gum disease. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums, which makes them swollen and bleed easily. Dentists can cure gingivitis with a thorough dental cleaning and instructions on how a patient can improve their dental hygiene routine. Untreated gingivitis can advance to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis isn’t curable, but it can be managed so it does not destroy the bone and soft tissues holding your teeth in place.

Flossing can protect you from more than gum disease and cavities. It can protect you from the increased risk of certain diseases associated with periodontitis, or severe gum disease. Untreated, advanced gum disease increases your chances of developing a stroke and heart disease. It can also make it harder for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Unfortunately, gum disease is also related to respiratory infections such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia.

There are many products to help you clean between your teeth. Whatever product you use, it’s important to use it at least once a day. There is traditional dental floss, which is a thin nylon thread. It comes in waxed and unwaxed versions and different flavors. There is dental tape, which is thicker and suitable for people with wide spaces between their teeth. Super flossers are made for people with braces or bridges. The floss has a pointed, stiff end and regular floss for maximum cleaning around oral appliances. There are also air and water flossers that work by applying air or water pressure to remove plaque and food debris from between teeth. These are ideal for individuals with limited manual dexterity. Since the options seem endless, there are also small, straight interdental brushes. These are small, straight brushes of varying widths used to clean between teeth. They work just as well, if not better than regular floss according to studies.

Several factors should go into deciding which product is right to clean between your teeth. Consider:

  • The space between your teeth. Waxed dental floss is better for teeth very close together while dental tape is best for teeth with wide spaces between them.
  • Your manual dexterity. If you have limited manual dexterity, consider interdental brushes or hand-held flossers
  • Your gag reflex. Avoid string dental floss if you have a strong gag reflex or don’t like trying to fit floss between your back teeth.
  • Whether you have a small mouth. Any other option besides traditional dental floss is better for you.

Whichever product you choose, you will want to verify with your dentist that you are doing a good job.

Why Flossing Is Important for Children

As soon as your child has two teeth that touch, they should start flossing. Actually, you may have to start by flossing their teeth for them when they are very young. Baby teeth tend to be widely spaced; your child may need their teeth flossed at age two or three, but almost always by age six. You want to prevent decay between their teeth to help prevent them from developing cavities. Cavities can spread in baby teeth easily and cause your child pain. Children can usually floss on their own once they reach age eight.

How to Make Flossing Fun for Kids

  1. Start as early as possible. As kids get more teeth that touch, they will have more teeth to floss. It will make them feel like they are growing up. You can also start before they have teeth that touch to introduce them to the idea of flossing.
  2. Incorporate your flossing with your children’s. Most kids like to do what adults do and you can set a good example. If you’re lax about flossing, this is the perfect time to start flossing daily. If you don’t floss too, kids will see flossing as something that’s unfair that only kids have to do.
  3. Let your kids choose their own toothbrush, toothpaste and floss with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. There are many fun shapes and flavors made specifically for kids. Kids who choose their own products often show more of an interest in taking care of their teeth than kids who are presented with generic products.
  4. Let your child choose a two-minute song to play for tooth brushing and another song for flossing. You can find many songs on YouTube that are the right length. There are also free apps with music and games for brushing and flossing for iOS and Android devices.
  5. Establish a chart with starts for every day they brush and floss. Let your child turn in a certain number of stars for a small reward. Avoid sugary rewards, like ice cream or other things that may actually damage teeth. Choose a small toy, a tooth-friendly treat or a play date at a playground instead.

You can also ask your dentist or dental hygienist for more suggestions. They encourage children to brush and floss daily, so they will know other methods that work.

Flossing Made Easy

Follow these simple steps to floss effectively:

  1. Cut off a section of floss about 18 inches long.
  2. Wrap the floss around your index finger of each hand.
  3. Clean between each tooth by making a C shape and going over the side of each tooth.
  4. Use a new section of floss as you move to the next teeth to avoid spreading bacteria.

It’s never too late to start flossing. If you have questions, please consult one of our family dentists at American Dental Center for advice.

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