The primary cause of tooth decay (cavities), periodontal (gum) disease and halitosis (bad breath) is failure to remove plaque from the tooth surface. Plaque is the sticky mixture of bacteria, food and debris that you can scrape off your teeth. The surest way is mechanical removal of plaque with proper toothbrushing and flossing.
While a toothbrush is effective in cleaning the biting, front and back surfaces of a tooth, the bristles cannot adequately clean between the teeth. Dental floss is the best choice to remove plaque from these difficult areas. Floss, which is like a fine string, is available in a variety of forms – unwaxed or waxed, flavored or unflavored and regular or wide [dental tape]. These specifications give the floss different characteristics. For example, waxed floss may be easier to slide through tight teeth or restoration contacts, while unwaxed floss will spread out its fibers during use for greater tooth contact. Floss holders and disposable floss picks are also handy tools for those who get “tied up” with regular floss.
It is important for adults to take the lead with flossing, until children can demonstrate proper technique (somewhere between 3rd-5th grade). When to start? Start flossing your child when the teeth are in contact. How often? For young children, take their age, divide by two, and floss that many times/week. E.g. a four-year old should be flossed 2x/week; a 6 year-old 3x/week; teens: EVERY DAY! It’s important to be consistent, starting in the same place and working your way around the dental arch so as not to miss any spots.
For individuals who have braces or space maintainers in their mouth, floss threaders can be used to get the floss under the wires. Water-Piks are also useful in “water blasting” out the food before brushing.
Refuse to floss? Another option are toothpicks, “Soft-Picks”, or specially designed “Stimudents”. These are a convenient way to effectively dislodge food, remove plaque and massage gums. One has a flexible brush and the other a wooden tapered point that fits perfectly between your teeth, no matter how tall or short that space is.
If you need some help with your flossing technique, or would like a sample of Stimudents or Floss-Picks, ask at your next visit.