When it comes to oral health, we tend to be guilty of focusing on our teeth. We invest in whitening toothpaste and stand there brushing furiously to try and get a smile that is as bright and shiny as possible. However, appearances can be deceptive and while we are busy spending extra time brushing, an important aspect of our dental care gets neglected – looking after our gums.
Teeth, much like everything else about us, are completely unique. Very few of us have naturally straight teeth. The main disadvantage of a crooked smile, aside from the aesthetic appearance, is that it creates gaps between our teeth that are very hard to clean properly. When we eat and drink, particles of food can become lodged in these gaps where, if they aren’t removed, form bacteria-filled plaque that leads to tooth decay and gum disease. Small-headed and electric toothbrushes can help with brushing these particles away, but they are unable to get into the very smallest gaps where bacteria can accumulate. Gaps don’t just exist there either. Microscopic pockets between the teeth and gums are unavoidable, regardless of how straight your smile is.
Our warm, moist mouths are a haven for bacteria so looking after your gums is vitally important. This is particularly true when you consider that poor oral health has been linked to a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help care for your gums and protect your overall health and wellbeing – the biggest of which is learning how to floss properly. We have put together this guide which contains the best techniques for flossing your teeth so that you can minimize your risk of gum disease and enjoy truly great oral health.
Ideally, you should start each flossing session with around 18 inches of floss. Take the ends and wrap them around your middle fingers, leaving a gap of around 2 or 3 inches to begin flossing with.
When you go into the grocery store to buy floss you will probably be greeted with a dozen or more brands. However, there are really only two types of floss that you need to decide between. These are:
Nylon/multifilament floss. This cheaper variety of floss is often advertised in multiple flavors and can be waxed or unwaxed. Made up of multiple strands of nylon, this type of floss isn’t very durable and is well known to shred or rip with heavy use or when used in particularly small gaps.
PTFE/monofilament floss. This is a single-strand alternative to nylon floss which is virtually shred-resistant but does come with a higher price tag.
Most people choose to floss after they brush their teeth. This means that the toothbrush does the bulk of the work, and then you can floss those hard to reach areas and clear them of bacteria. Some people do choose to do a full or partial brush after flossing to clear away any debris dislodged by the flossing process and to get additional fluoride into the gaps between the teeth. It doesn’t make a huge amount of difference when you floss, just so long as you do!
The American Dental Association states that for the best oral hygiene and dental health, daily flossing is recommended.
As stated above, take an 18inch section of floss and wrap the ends around your fingers so that you have a 2 to 3-inch section to start with. Place yourself in front of a mirror so that you can see what you are doing as this will make the process much easier.
Start with your upper teeth. The majority of people find that it is easiest for them to use their thumbs on their upper teeth as this gives them the greatest amount of control over the floss. However, you should floss however is most comfortable for you. By starting with your upper teeth, any debris that may fall out will fall onto your lower teeth to be cleaned after.
Horizontal and vertical movements are required. Gently slide the floss between your teeth in a horizontal motion so that debris is pushed outwards rather than down into the gum. Move it down to the point where your tooth meets the gum and move it up and down to follow the contours of the tooth and ensure any plaque embedded in them is removed.
Use a new section of floss for each tooth. To minimize passing particles from one tooth to another, use a new section of floss for each tooth – one inch should be enough per tooth, with the extra space each side to help you maneuver the floss properly. Take note of which tooth you start with so that you can make sure you have flossed them all before you move on to your lower teeth. Don’t forget your back molars. They are trickier to do, but as your chewing teeth, they are some of the hardest workings in your mouth!
Be gentle. Being too rough could cause your gums to become sore and/or bleed. If you do experience bleeding gums it could be a sign that you need to floss more often.
Don’t forget to rinse. If you choose not to brush after flossing, then you should certainly rinse your mouth, as this will wash away any remaining dislodged particles. Freshwater works well, but if you can use an antibacterial mouthwash you can eliminate any stubborn bacterial and have the benefit of an additional protective barrier around your gums and teeth.
If you are new to flossing it can take a while to get into the habit. However, if you want to maintain a magnificent smile and exceptional oral health then taking a few minutes out of your day to floss is well worth the fuss.