For as long as most of us can remember, flossing has been a standard part of our daily oral hygiene routine, along with brushing twice. But why, exactly, do we floss? We’ve all had something stuck in our teeth that we’ve had to fish out before, often with highly unorthodox methods. But as for the benefits of flossing, why should we run a tiny piece of string between our teeth every day?
A Quick Look at Dental Floss
Dental floss just celebrated its 200th birthday. The waxy silk thread was devised in 1819 by a New Orleans dentist by the name of Levi Spear Parmly, who suggested it be run “through the interstices of the teeth…to dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove and which is the real source of disease.”
Patented in 1874, the use of floss received the American Dental Association’s endorsement in 1908. It’s gone through many advances in materials, technology, and flavoring over the past 100 years. However, it only became a staple of American oral care in the late 1970s following the federal government’s recommendation and advances in the understanding of how dental caries (also known as cavities) develop.
Flossing Fights Plaque
So what are the benefits of flossing? Here’s how the Department of Health and Human Services explains it: “Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. Professional teeth cleaning, tooth brushing, and cleaning between teeth (flossing and the use of other tools such as interdental brushes) have been shown to disrupt and remove plaque.”
Plaque is caused by one of the more than 500 bacteria that call your mouth home. When combined with sugar and starches (like those found in soft drinks and candy), these bacteria produce an acid that eats away at the enamel of your teeth. Plaque that sneaks beneath the gum line can also cause gum loss and bone decay in the sockets that hold the tooth in place.
Plaque is initially a clear, sticky liquid that gives your teeth a fuzzy feeling. If left long enough, plaque hardens into dental calculus, better known as tartar. Not only does tartar make it harder to keep your teeth clean, it provides something of a breeding ground for plaque-causing bacteria. Once tartar forms, only your dentist can remove it.
When used in combination with regular visits to your dentist and good brushing habits, floss provides an extra layer of defense against cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and a host of other mouth-related problems.
How to Floss Properly
It only takes a minute, but to get the benefits of flossing, you ought to do it right. Choose floss that’s ADA-approved, which should be readily available from your local pharmacy or grocery store.
Start with a piece of floss that’s around 18” long. Wrap a little less than half of it on your left middle finger, then roughly the same amount around your right, leaving about an inch in the middle.
Hold the floss firmly between the thumb and index finger on each hand. Slide it gently up and down the side of your tooth. Allow it to curve along with the shape of your tooth and slip beneath the gum line. As you’ll notice, this is a sensitive area, so don’t be rough. Too much pressure won’t clean your teeth any better and can, in fact, do some damage if you’re not careful. For a video demonstration of proper flossing technique, visit the American Dental Association’s flossing page.
South High Dental
The benefits of flossing are best seen when part of an oral hygiene routine that includes brushing and regular visits to your dentist. If you’re in the Columbus, OH, area, South High Dental can help you keep your teeth clean and healthy for the rest of your life. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call us at 614.363.2462.