Articles have been coming up about the ineffectiveness of flossing. Do we really need to floss? Is it really helping? From a hygienist perspective, the answer is it depends. You really only need to take care of the ones that you want to keep, and when it comes to cleaning in between the teeth, there are numerous ways available beyond flossing that can make it more user friendly, or be more effective.
Each and every one of us are like snowflakes. We are different and unique in our own way, especially when it comes to our mouths. Everyone has their own unique tongue print, different mouth chemistry (bacteria make-up), tooth structures and anatomy. Throughout life , we can experience changes that may alter what we currently do, to what we will or may need to do in the future. Each person’s way of caring for their mouths should be on an individual basis. You can’t do a study on 100 people to evaluate the effects of flossing when patient’s have different anatomy, you don’t know if they are actually flossing, and the majority of the population does not know how to floss properly!! It is much more complex as each person needs to be educated on their ideal home care.
The best way to know how to care for your individual mouth is to see a dental hygienist and dentist. They can make you aware of areas in your mouth that you are having trouble caring for and introduce you to new products that will make cleaning in between your teeth easier and more effective! Here are a few examples of different ways to care for those hard to reach places!!
A common response I get when I ask or instruct a patient on flossing is. “I don’t like the way flossing feels” or “I always feel like I’m going to pull out the tooth, filling or crown.”
Other options for flossing include the following.
1) Proxy brush. Proxy brushes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be inserted from the cheek or tongue side to clean in between the teeth without having to pull up. This can be comforting for some patients, and easier. I commonly recommend proxy brushes for larger spaces in between the teeth because they will remove plaque and food debris adequately.
2) Soft picks are similar to proxy brushes in that they have tiny bristles at the end. They are made of rubber (so if you have a rubber allergy, search for a small proxy brush). They can tend to be a little bit more comfortable on the gum tissue and come in a curved and straight option.
3) Rubber tip stimulator. A rubber tip stimulator can be used to help remove debri and harmful bacteria. In addition, it massages the gum tissue and can help firm the gum tissue. It’s like a workout for your gums. These can be very helpful around the margin of crowns.
4) Air and water flosser’s are better than nothing, but personally I have patients that use these religiously and unless used in addition with brushing and flossing, can still leave stubborn plaque along the tooth surface where bacteria can still colonize. The tissues usually remain puffy with some bleeding with just air or water flosser use. It is effective in removing food debris and loose plaque.
5) Toothpicks can also be effective at removing some plaque and food debris. It’s thin end allows for easy access into tighter spaces, but improper use may cause damage to the gum tissue. This is better than nothing, but I would not consider it the best option when giving attention to in between your teeth.
It is recommended that you brush twice a day and get in between the teeth at least once a day. You wouldn’t get in the shower and just wash the front of your body, would you? The next time you visit the dentist, take the time to ask some questions about cleaning in between your teeth and what the best options may be for you. Spending $2 on floss or proxy brushes each month is much more cost effective they needing to replace a tooth at $4500.