We’ve all heard the dreaded question before—from your current or previous dentist— “Have you been flossing?”
So, why should we floss?
Flossing has two benefits:
- For healthy teeth:
It gets rid of the food and plaque trapped between your teeth.
If left, this debris can get wedged up between your teeth. Left for days, the resulting bacteria can begin the process of forming a cavity between your teeth, right where the two teeth meet.
If you’ve ever had 2 fillings next door to each other that are touching, chances are they developed decay because of this situation, which is easily prevented by 1 minute of flossing per day.
- For healthy gums:
Flossing removes the food and plaque that gets trapped under our gums. Wait, what? Under our gums? Yes! Between your gums and your teeth is a little space, termed a ‘pocket’. The depth of these pockets vary between individuals, and your dentist will have measured them for you in the past. They tend to vary between 1-3mm in depth.
It’s in these little pockets that we get the most food, plaque and bacteria trapped without even realising it. Because it is under the gums, we cannot see this accumulation when we look in the mirror—the plaque that you see on your teeth is only half of what’s actually there!
So what does flossing do?
When done properly, it prevents the build-up of plaque, food and bacteria in these pockets. When using the floss, it should be pushed gently down, deep into the gums (as uncomfortable as that sounds) to clean out all the food and plaque that is trapped under there.
“But every time I floss the gums, they bleed!”
Well that usually means there is inflammation of the gums, otherwise known as gingivitis.
Blood coming from our bodies is usually a sign that something is going wrong. If we were to bleed from our eyes or our ears, most of us would be pretty concerned and see a doctor. But when we bleed from our gums and mouth, most of us ignore it and put it down to brushing or flossing too hard. This isn’t true, instead it’s our body trying to warn us that there is something going wrong.
In this case, it’s due to the presence of bacteria (from food and plaque) in our gums that is making them become inflamed, swollen and prone to bleeding! If your gums bleed, then you may need to have your teeth professionally cleaned by your dental professional so that all this build-up can be removed to allow for your gums to be heal and become healthy. Once your gums are healthy, when flossing under the gums or getting your teeth cleaned professionally, they won’t bleed and the whole process will be much more comfortable.
“Well I’ve never flossed before and I’ve never had any issues”.
You’ve never had any issues so far. All this plaque that is built up in these gum pockets and the accumulated inflammation will eventually cause a chronic inflammatory response. Over time, if left untreated, this gingivitis (gum inflammation) can lead to gum disease (periodontitis or periodontal disease).
Periodontal disease is a condition where the surrounding gums and bones that hold your teeth in start to shrink away. This is an irreversible condition. Once the bone and gums have receded away, it will never grow back. Even if your teeth are perfectly healthy, if you lose the foundation surrounding them (that is your teeth and gums), then these too will become loose over time and may eventually fall out. This is the worst-case scenario of gum disease, and usually occurs over a lifetime. The most common factor amongst those who have had severe gum disease is a lack of maintenance of their gums. Hence flossing is all for preventing gum disease and tooth decay. A 1-minute routine added to your day can save you from many dental headaches over a lifetime.
So how do we floss?
Our recommendation is once a day. There is no better way than by a visual demonstration, so here is a link to a video tutorial:
If you experience any symptoms of gingivitis or gum disease, contact your dental professional for an assessment. Ask us about our tips and tricks and recommended products that make flossing easier and a part of your daily routine!