It’s been six months since your last teeth cleaning. You arrive at your appointment and get called to head to the back by your hygienist. As she begins cleaning your teeth, she asks the question we all dread. “How often do you floss?” If you’re like many people, you might stretch the truth, or justify telling a white lie since you DID use a toothpick after dinner a few nights back.
Maybe now—lucky you!–you won’t have to answer that question any longer. Just recently the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services stated that flossing has been not been proven to be effective, and removed it from their dietary guidelines.
Well, slow down, my friend. You’re not off the hook just yet.
While this bold statement is technically true, there are still a few things to consider. First, the guidelines don’t say that flossing is bad or ineffective; they’re just saying there isn’t enough evidence in studies to prove it does help. The difference may feel like a matter of semantics, so for your own peace of mind, ask any dentist if you should floss. But you probably already know what their answer will be.
Your teeth consist of five surfaces, and brushing your teeth will hit all but two. Flossing will take care of the two remaining surfaces (the surfaces between your teeth) and ensure that plaque does not become tartar, which eats away at your teeth and gums. While flossing can help prevent tooth decay, a study by the Central for Disease Control shows that only 30% of the U.S. population flosses daily.
If you’re one of the 70% of people who don’t floss daily, you should know there are many alternatives to floss out there that can be just as effective in cleaning between your teeth.
Interdental Brushes – These are little brushes that you used to brush in between your teeth. People find these much easier to use than floss, and are good for people who have braces or larger gaps between their teeth.
Waterpik – The waterpik shoots a small, strong stream of water that can fit between small crevices in your teeth. It’s great to use for washing away plaque that can gather in pockets, but can take more time to master than floss or interdental brushes.
Floss Picks – A floss pick is a small piece of floss attached to a handle. These have become popular in recent times due to how convenient they are to use, but there are a few things to consider when using them. Since the floss is attached to a handle, manipulating the floss to hit all of the surfaces of your teeth can be difficult. Additionally, the recommended amount of floss to be used in a session is 12-18 inches, and the typical floss pick is only about two inches. Consider using more than one floss pick per session.
Regardless of what technique you use to clean between your teeth, the overall consensus is that anything is better than nothing.
Have a difficult time flossing every day? Start by doing it three times a week. Flossing takes time and doesn’t give immediate results, but think of it as an investment in your mouth’s future.