To floss or not to floss?

Flossing guide from the view of a military hygiene technician.

To floss or not to floss?

Flossing guide from the view of a military hygiene technician.

Jan. 5, 2020
2 min read

Dustin Both, former advanced oral hygiene technician in the US military and general manager at Allez Dental Temple Terrace, talks about all things in dental flossing.

I joined the military when I was 18. At basic training, if you did not have a guaranteed job (like me), you got to pick your top 10 choices and, if you were lucky (likeme, again), you got one of those choices. Dental assistant was #10 on my list.It turned out I did extremely well in dentistry. So much so that I was trained to the same level as a dental hygienist. While I was an Advanced Oral Hygiene Technician in the military, one of the most common question I was asked was,“Why do I have to floss?” As with most physical tasks in life, if you truly want to be proficient, you need knowledge, proper technique, and the propertools.

First, to understand why flossing is so important you have to understand what causes the need to floss. The reason everyone needs to flossis because bacteria, if left unchecked, cause cavities and tartar buildup. In fact,lack of flossing is the #1 reason why most cavities form between the teeth andis also why almost all dental bone loss is in between teeth as well. But, “How does this happen?” you may ask. Well the bacteria in your mouth attach themselves to the structure of the teeth and form colonies. This is what plaque is. The bacterial colonies, then feed off the food you eat, favoring carbohydrates, like sugar, but are quite capable of processing any food you eat. After eating, they then secrete acid, which dissolves your teeth, and use the energy to reproduce. When there is enough dissolved tooth structure, a dentist will diagnose you with a cavity. Next the bacteria die, and your saliva calcifies the remnants, and that is how tartar is formed.  This process takes roughly 24 hours. Tarter cannot be flossed off and only a dentist or dental hygienist can safely remove tarter from your teeth. If left unchecked, tarter will start to inflame the gums. If the process continues further you will start to see bone loss  and if enough time and neglect are given, tooth loss will happen. In essence floss does in between the teeth what brushing does for the rest of the teeth. It is recommended that you brush twice a day and floss once a day. I have always recommended flossing every time you brush your teeth,because it builds the habit better.

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that can progress to affect the bone that surrounds and supports your teeth. It is caused by the bacteria in plaque, a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. If not removed through daily brushing and flossing, plaque can build up and the bacteria infect not only your gums and teeth, but eventually the gum tissue and bone that support the teeth. This can cause them to become loose, fall out or have to be removed by a dentist.

Now, remember that question at the beginning people asked me all the time, “Why do I have to floss?” Most often when I’m being asked that, what they are saying is “Flossing hurts my gums and is uncomfortable. Can you give me a good reason I should floss?” That is where proper technique comes in to play. Proper flossing technique is quite simple, yet, every so often, I would come across someone that does it completely wrong. So, before I get into the right way of flossing, let’s get rid of the incorrect method. In no way should you ever “saw” the floss. This is by far the most common error in flossing. That being said a way to prevent floss from “snapping” into your gums, while trying to get the floss in between your teeth, is to use a “sawing” motion to get it through the contact of the tooth. The contact is the area at the top of the tooth where one tooth touches another tooth. Again, in no way should you ever “saw” the floss once beyond this point. Once you have the floss in between the teeth, pull each end into a “C” shape. Then, carefully, move the floss all the way down, without hurting yourself, pull back up without breaking the contact, all while maintaining the “C” shape.  Repeat the up down motion a minimum of three times. You may then pull the floss out. Repeat until you have flossed all of your teeth. As stated above, if you haven’t been flossing every day, your gums will likely be inflamed and, as a result, will bleed a little bit. That is ok. As you start to build your habit, and start consistently flossing daily, the bleeding should subside. If you have questions, talk to your dentist or hygienist. Better still, show them how you floss, and ask them if you need improvement and how. I’m sure they will be happy to guide you in the right direction.

How to properly use dental floss.

Most commonly, once I got through explaining why flossing is important and how to do it properly, inevitably, I would be asked “What is the best floss to use?” Believe it or not, the answer to that is based on each individual’s needs. So far, everything that has been described above is correct for natural teeth, and it also works for any tooth that has been crowned, and all of that can be done with standard waxed floss. There is a plethora of alternative out there but keep in mind that nothing replaces the mechanical effectiveness of floss. Then there are people that have Bridges or implant supported fixed dentures. Given the nature of these dental prostheses, regular floss won’t do. In these cases, there is a product, made by multiple companies, called super floss.  It has a built-in floss threader connected to a spongy material that is connected to non-waxed floss. The floss threader helps to get the floss under the bridge or implant supported fixed denture, and once there, follow the instructions listed above. Again, talk to your dentist or hygienist if you are unsure if you are using the super floss correctly.

Most commonly, once I got through explaining why flossing is important and how to do it properly, inevitably, I would be asked “What is the best floss to use?” Believe it or not, the answer to that is based on each individual’s needs. So far, everything that has been described above is correct for natural teeth, and it also works for any tooth that has been crowned, and all of that can be done with standard waxed floss. There is a plethora of alternative out there but keep in mind that nothing replaces the mechanical effectiveness of floss. Then there are people that have Bridges or implant supported fixed dentures. Given the nature of these dental prostheses, regular floss won’t do. In these cases, there is a product, made by multiple companies, called super floss.  It has a built-in floss threader connected to a spongy material that is connected to non-waxed floss. The floss threader helps to get the floss under the bridge or implant supported fixed denture, and once there, follow the instructions listed above. Again, talk to your dentist or hygienist if you are unsure if you are using the super floss correctly.

I should also point out that if you have standard dentures you don’t need to floss. Additionally, if you have a removable implant supported denture, also known as a “snap-in” denture, then you only need to brush the implants with a soft or softer bristle tooth brush, no flossing required. Today you read about the why flossing is necessary, the proper technique for flossing, and what type of floss to use. Happy flossing!