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Commentary: Got floss?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Soohwa Ono
  • 59th Dental Training Squadron
At most dental exams, you’ll hear the dentist or hygienist ask, “How often do you floss?” If this is not something you do routinely, it might take you a moment to come up with an answer.

You may know it is important to floss daily, but why? Flossing removes the plaque and debris between the teeth in the areas that brushing alone cannot reach and reduces the possibility of getting gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums.

Signs of gingivitis, a mild form of periodontal disease, include redness and bleeding of the gums. Luckily, you can treat gingivitis through regular dental cleanings and proper brushing and flossing. However, if left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, a more advanced form of gum disease affecting the supporting bone of the teeth that can eventually lead to tooth loss.

“At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by a professional cleaning at your dental office, followed by daily brushing and flossing,” according to the American Dental Association.

Periodontal disease normally progresses at a slow rate. Once someone develops periodontitis, dental professionals can control the progression of the disease through excellent oral hygiene and professional care.

Thankfully, periodontal disease is preventable, according to American Academy of Periodontology. By making flossing a habit, people can keep their teeth healthier and reduce the possibility of developing gum disease.

Just as there are different kinds of toothbrushes, there are also many types of floss to choose from and with all those choices, it can be overwhelming.

Different types of floss include waxed, unwaxed, tape, textured and flavored. Floss picks and water flossers are other options for picking or cleaning debris from between the teeth, but are not as effective as string floss in removing the bacteria off the tooth surfaces, especially from surfaces underneath the gums. Therefore, if you use floss picks or water flossers, dental professionals recommend using string floss as well. A dental health professional can help you choose the floss type that will benefit you the most.

The best way to floss with string floss is to take an 18-inch piece of floss and wrap the ends around the middle fingers. Gently slide the floss between the teeth and wrap it around the teeth like the letter C. While hugging the tooth with the floss, slide the floss in a controlled up and down direction to remove the plaque and food debris off the tooth surface. Repeat between all teeth and don’t forget the back of the last tooth.

Recently, flossing was removed from the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. When that happened, some people believed flossing was no longer a necessary or beneficial step for good oral hygiene. Instead, the guidelines’ focus changed from the importance of flossing to managing certain food intakes, specifically emphasizing the importance of limiting sugars in our diet. However, flossing is still a vital step in maintaining good oral hygiene and a healthy smile, according to the ADA.

Just remember, you will only have one permanent set of natural teeth. And as those in the dental profession like to say, “You only need to brush and floss the ones you want to keep.”

Happy flossing!

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