Tooth truths: Why flossing is essential

Flossing is important for dental health. And it’s never too late – or early – to start. Here’s why… 

If anyone can make flossing cool, it’s Beyoncé. Dentists around the world were no doubt delighted when the music star posted an Instagram video of herself and her then-three-year-old daughter Blue Ivy rocking their flossing stick routine to a rap soundtrack (sounding suspiciously like Daddy Jay-Z).  
Dr Roslyn Dick, a principal dentist at Bupa Dental Rochedale, certainly approves of one of the world’s most famous mums introducing her young daughter to flossing. “People who don’t floss tend to have build-up of plaque between their teeth,” she says. “When plaque collects in these areas, it can breed tooth decay and gum disease. Hard deposits, known as calculus, can also collect, inflaming the gum and causing it to pull away from the tooth.”

Doing it right

According to Dr Roslyn , correct technique is paramount. “The purpose of flossing is to remove the plaque around the tooth,” she says. “Floss needs to be used like a scraper for every surface of the rounded edge.”

She recommends using a 40 to 50-centimetre-long piece of floss, enough to wrap around your middle fingers a few times to establish a secure tension. “Then place your pointer finger and thumb on that tension, making sure you have good control over that small amount of floss, wrap around the edge of the tooth and use the floss as a scraper on each surface,” she says.

cute little girl flossing teeth
It’s a good idea to introduce flossing to the smallest members of the family early. According to Dr Roslyn, even milk teeth can benefit. “Introduce regular flossing when the molars  arrive – those back teeth that are right next to each other – around age two or three.”

It is, of course, much harder to get around the back teeth, but they are also crucial to maintaining oral health. “If the floss catches or shreds, there’s a reason for that,” she warns. “A sharp filling, an overhang or a build-up of calculus can stop the floss from moving over the teeth smoothly.”

While enthusiastic flossers can do themselves injury by going too far underneath a tooth, stripping away the attachment of the gum to the tooth, they are in the minority. “Very few people over-floss,” Dr Roslyn says. “The biggest danger is that they don’t floss at all. The most important thing is to not give up flossing altogether. Once a day, properly, is enough to remove plaque thoroughly.”

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Find your perfect floss

These days, it’s easier than ever to find a product that will help keep you committed. First-generation flosses were unwaxed, stiff and uncomfortable; modern flosses are waxed for ease of use, come in different thicknesses and shapes, and even in different flavours.

Interdental brushes – tiny brushes designed to get in between teeth – and flossing sticks (Y-shaped handles with a short piece of floss stretched between the two tines) have also changed the flossing landscape.

“These can be a lot easier for people – especially for small hands, or arthritic ones – which makes the process more pleasant,” says Dick. “There’s even special super floss that can get underneath bridge work. Different people choose different products depending on their dental situation. It’s important to find one that they like. If people find it comfortable, they’re much more likely to continue with the habit.”
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