If you are like many of my dental patients this week, you also heard about the the report on Good Morning America and other media outlets about flossing.  You see, it appears from this article that “experts believe” the flossing isn’t necessary for prevention of cavities and gum disease. Here’s a link to the story in case you haven’t heard about this yet. But let’s discuss…is flossing really necessary?

Let’s first discuss the research that was conducted to come to this conclusion. All kinds of arguments say flossing is ineffective at stopping gum disease or cavities, that studies need to be over a longer period of time and a larger sample size. The problem is that most patients we’ve met have never been taught to floss properly and haven’t practiced the skill enough to get really good. Yes, it is a skill, and totally worth the few dollars your dental office may charge you to learn exactly how. There are also other factors involved in how well floss works in controlling gum disease and cavities…the rest of the patient! Studies completed to date have not controlled for underlying disease processes like diabetes and heart disease which can contribute to dental disease. The specific bacterial load of each patient, dietary habits, mouth breathing or asthma, age, manual dexterity…all of these and more can also contribute to oral health and may require special management to keep the mouth healthy.

I’ve got a suggestion for you. Stop reading this blog right now and brush your teeth. When you come back to your computer, bring your dental floss with you! It’s ok, the blog will still be here when you get back. Now…floss your teeth. In between each tooth, curve the floss around the sides of the tooth and rub up and down the tooth surface, pop the floss out. Look at the floss. Does it have white gunk on it? Salad from your lunch? Blood? And also…smell the floss. Does it smell like fresh breath? Or does it smell like dead things? Unless your floss comes out completely clean and free of debris or blood and smells like roses…you NEED to be cleaning between your teeth! Still disagree with that? Would you be willing to put the stuff from your floss back on your teeth again? Also, if you think no one else around can smell that smell of death…you are wrong. They CAN smell it.

Most dentists and dental hygienists will tell you to brush at least twice per day and use dental floss once daily, and others may advocate additional tools to help keep gums and teeth healthy. We do recommend this in our office as well, specifically the use of a good-quality electric toothbrush and with the addition of one the most under-utilized tools, the Waterpik. Here’s how all of these parts work together. The toothbrush, obviously, removes the majority of food debris and plaque from the biting surfaces, cheek-side and tongue-side of the teeth. We see many patients completely forgetting to brush the tongue side of their teeth, especially the molars on the bottom, and don’t forget to brush your tongue as well, as far back as you can comfortably go! Some patients also like a tongue scraper, feeling it is more effective and can get farther back than a brush.

The next step is flossing. Technique is super important here, and it would be smart for you to ask your dental hygienist to show you once again how to do this properly; done wrong, and you can not only be ineffective but can also damage your gums if you aren’t careful! Here’s a video demonstrating good technique. Don’t get frustrated, it can take up to two weeks to get this routine done properly. As soon as you learn to do this well, you will see debris on the floss as you remove it. If you didn’t floss…that stuff would still be on your teeth or under your gums. Gums and teeth like a clean environment, and if there is food debris left behind, trouble will ensue.

We also recommend a last step, use a Waterpik. This tool, when used properly will flush out any food debris or plaque that was moved around by the toothbrush or floss but not actually removed from the tooth or the gum pocket. You can find an instructional video here, or ask your dental hygienist how to use this great device. Your dentist or dental hygienist can also make recommendations for other treatment to use at home or in the office to solve your specific gum tissue or cavity problems. And think of it this way…if your dentist or hygienist is recommending a method for you to keep your teeth cleaner at home, you may actually need fewer appointments with us. Hmm…is this a conspiracy?

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at drandreastevens.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer.