Everybody in Floss?!? Exploring the Controversy Over Floss

Is it Time to Throw Out the Floss? 

Take it from me…flossing is definitely no monkey business! We understand how difficult it can be to floss regularly. You not only have to maneuver that floss in the deepest, darkest corners of the mouth BUT there’s the pressure of life to get out of the house to work, to school…to Starbucks! Despite all of this, I am impressed with how many of you are regular flossers. Not just regular flossers, enthusiastic flossers!!!


Of course we are not supposed to have favourites, but there are some ‘enthusiastic flossers’ that are worth mentioning:

  1. The Beaver aka 'Perfectionist' - inspects their floss after each pass and nods their head in complete satisfaction when they can finally move on to the next tooth
  2. The Bumble-Bee aka 'Multi-tasker’ - flosses when at red lights as if nobody is watching in the car next to you (for the record, this is not recommended by your dentist)
  3. The College Student aka ‘The Cram for the Exam Flosser’ - flosses twice as much the day before their cleaning to have their gums in tip top shape for their hygienist


For 200 years, the dental profession has recommended flossing as a method to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. But in August 2016 I had one of those days where everything I thought I knew, I realized I might have been wrong! I woke up to this headline: ’MEDICAL BENEFITS OF DENTAL FLOSS UNPROVEN'. After reviewing 25 dental studies analyzing the effectiveness of flossing in the prevention of dental disease, the Associated Press report concluded that there is only 'weak, very unreliable' evidence for supporting the use of floss. I was crushed - wandering around aimlessly muttering to myself, ’Could this be true? Everything I was taught in dental school about floss was wrong?!’ 


The reality is, it’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of flossing because everybody flosses differently. Some people have bridges, others have crowded teeth or even braces.

Most importantly, many other factors such as dry mouth or sugars or acidity in the mouth can increase your risk for developing cavities and gum disease.
So it is perfectly reasonable that there would be 'weak, very unreliable' evidence in favour of flossing because it is extremely difficult to measure scientifically. Weak evidence for flossing? Perhaps, but floss is inexpensive and completely worth the effort! The fact is, one of the highest-risk areas for decay is between the teeth. Without cleaning in between the teeth, we are leaving up to 40% of our teeth vulnerable to the damaging effects of plaque and biofilm.


So what exactly are we asking you to do when you floss?

  1. Dispense an arm’s length of floss 
  2. Wrap floss around your middle fingers on both hands (leaving about 5” between your fingers)
  3. Support the floss with your thumbs or index fingers so that there is only 1” between THESE fingers. A shorter length of floss between your fingers will allow for better control.
  4. Gently saw the floss between the contact of your teeth
  5. Wrap the floss around one of the teeth and gently ‘wipe’ the floss up and down the side of the tooth. Try to avoid a ‘sawing’ motion!
  6. Then wrap the floss around the other tooth and repeat.
  7. Unwind the floss so that you expose a clean section for the next contact. Reusing a contaminated section of floss can transfer more plaque and bacteria to another site.
  8. When you’re all done, reach over and drop it in the garbage can…hopefully it lands in the garbage can.


FLOSS LIKE A BOSS TIP: If you’re tired of throbbing fingers as the floss tightens around them like a boa constrictor, try tying the floss into a loop. This will allow you to floss and avoid amputating those precious fingers!


In the late 1990’s, GAP launched a brilliant marketing campaign to promote their khaki coloured chinos to the masses. But, putting ‘everybody in khakis’ did not allow for individual expression of style … khakis were not for everyone. On a similar note, I believe that teeth are just as unique as our individual sense of style. 


Just as one body type can differ from the next, teeth are very unique in their shape. Floss may not be as effective when there is an irregular shape to the tooth.


Bridges are often used to replace a missing tooth, but pose a problem for flossing. The supporting teeth are “joined” to the false tooth. As a result, traditional flossing techniques are challenging around and under bridgework.


Braces also pose a challenge to flossing because the wire interferes with the access for the floss. 


Although floss has its advantages, floss also has its shortcomings. Interdental brushes (ex. Curaprox brush) and Oral Irrigators (ex. Sonicare AirFloss/Waterpik Water Flosser) are much more effective around braces, bridges and irregular shaped teeth. 


Interdental brushes are similar to pipe cleaners with a wire spine covered with bristles in a variety of shapes/patterns. They are bendable to fit in any corner or under any dental work. They are inserted between the teeth like a toothpick, but will not harm the gingiva or tooth structure. Most importantly, the bristles of these interdental brushes can 'drag' out the plaque and debris from between the teeth.


Oral irrigators like the Philips Sonicare AirFloss is an interesting addition to the home care routine. It uses up to 3 short bursts of air with some water droplets to blast the debris and plaque from between the teeth. On the other hand, The Waterpik Water Flosser uses jets of water to clean between the teeth. Both have similar claims to remove more than 99% of the interdental plaque. Both systems use a reservoir that allows mouthwash to be used instead of plain water. The Air Floss gets our vote because it is much smaller than the Waterpik Water Flosser.


Just as The GAP has put 'everyone in Khakis', we must avoid the temptation to put 'everyone in floss'. With the wide selection of interdental tools that are available, we must make it a priority to find the tool that works best in your hands. For those that are flossing-challenged, someone may be better off using an interdental brush instead of floss. Whereas, someone else may be quite adept at flossing and should continue to do so. Our mouths are quite unique, and so should our interdental cleaning regime!


Common sense would say that if you don't look good in Khakis...then wear jeans. On a similar note, if flossing is not a good fit for you, then try something else to 'clean between’!


Want more Information?

Download this helpful PDF that’s full of information to keep you on the road to good oral health: Your Oral Health

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