Flossing! Everyone’s favorite thing to do, NOT! Flossing is the biggest thing my patients struggle with as part of their homecare routine, but yet is an essential part of preventing tooth loss and gum disease. U.S News and World Report published a statistic that only about 1/3 of the U.S population flosses daily (1). Flossing is done by moving the floss in a deep “c” motion around the margin of the tooth above and below the gum line between your teeth. So what is the difference and concern about using floss picks vs. string floss?
Traditional String Floss can be waxed, unwaxed, tape, glide or satin. Typically you use one long piece (about the length of your forearm). Wind the floss around your right index finger, and two or three times around your left, then use your middle fingers and thumbs to control the deep “c” motion around both sides of each tooth. As you go around your mouth you want to make sure you change the section of floss between each tooth or every other tooth so you don’t drag bacteria around your mouth. String floss is a great way to have awareness of what’s going on in your mouth. If you notice an odor or abnormal color that’s a sign you may have an active infection. If you pull out a lot of plaque/ food or notice bleeding, those are also signs of a possible dental concern. Traditional floss can be difficult to control, but is proven to be the most effective with proper technique.
Floss picks are typically Y or F shaped plastic handles with a small piece of floss attached to either side of the opening. Floss picks are great for children and people who really struggle with traditional floss due to large hands, gag reflex, or limited use of their hands. Flossers have become popular to use because they are easy and portable. Some people who have tighter teeth may struggle with getting floss picks in between their teeth properly; in this situation traditional floss is recommended. Gum tissue likes to be massaged, but not tortured by the flosser snapping through the contact of the two teeth into the gingival pocket. Although, floss picks have become popular and have allowed more people to become better flossers, there are some health and environmental concerns with using them. Most people use a single floss pick for the entire mouth, this creates an increased risk of an unhealthy oral environment because you can spread bacteria from one section of your mouth to another. The plastic handles limit the movement of the floss, which makes them less effective in removing plaque and bacteria. The plastic handles are also a “single use plastic” which people throw on the ground rather than in the trash causing an environmental concern. If you choose to use floss picks, it’s important to know they are not always as effective as traditional floss, but they are a great option over not flossing at all.
No matter what form of floss you use, the most important thing is that you are doing it, and doing it properly. Flossing is an essential tool in preventing tooth loss, tooth decay, maintaining good oral health and decreasing risk of many overall health issues. If you struggle with flossing, discuss with your hygienist the best way to approach flossing and what tools may best suit you.