The Surprising Thing You Should Know About Flossing

A dental expert on maintaining your oral hygiene — and overall health

We recently broke down how to properly wash your dishes — and today, we’re tackling another aspect of our lifestyles: Why is flossing so important and how can we make sure we stick with it? We turned to Kareen Wilson, an Oral-B Smile Council member, and a registered dental hygienist. Rule number one? With Covid-19 going around, wash your hands! She further weighs in on hard-to-reach areas and more, below.

Why is flossing so important?

It’s amazing how flossing can be so effective in helping overall health. I think it’s something that everybody should think about incorporating into their overall health regimen.

If the build-up on your teeth is not removed on a regular basis, it can lead to gingivitis and gum disease. If you’re not flossing, you’re not getting to one-third of the tooth, which is made up of tooth surfaces between the teeth. And that plaque will stay there for a long period of time. So it is something that is very very important.

What’s one thing about flossing that more people should know?

It’s something connected to their overall health. Flossing can help to prevent things like gum disease and tooth decay, but you have to realize that it can actually affect everything.

By flossing, you’re not only protecting your oral health, but you’re helping reduce the risk of heart disease and all kinds of other diseases that can arise from not flossing. Why? When you’re not flossing, you might develop periodontal disease. It’s also known as gum disease, and it’s an inflammatory response that happens within your mouth. The bacteria that gets left behind causes inflammation and soreness, which can translate to inflammation in other parts of your body.

How often should people be flossing?

You should be flossing every day. You have to realize that when plaque is left across the surface of your teeth, within just 48 hours, it can actually turn into tartar, which is a hard substance that you need to have professionally removed. If you’re not flossing on a regular basis, you’re going to start having issues.

Could you explain the proper way to floss?

A lot of times people don’t realize this, but there is actually a technique for flossing. You’re going to need probably about 18 inches of floss. You’re going to wind it around your middle finger or your index finger, whichever is easiest for you.

You want to have it nice and tight. You’re going to use a very gentle motion and you’re going to slide down in between the teeth. Then, once you’ve got the floss in between your teeth, you’re going to try to pull the floss as tight around the surface as you can, almost like a ‘C’ shape.

Now, this is the area that I would like a lot of people to understand. It’s a slide motion, up and down the length of the teeth. It’s not a back and forth. You should be sliding all the way up to the contact of where it can’t go anymore and all the way back down underneath the gum line and just go back and forth.

Once you’re done, you’re going to snap it back through and you’re going to unwind that floss more so you’re going to a nice clean section. What I want to stress though, is that especially with what’s going on with Covid-19. You want to make sure that your hands are clean. Your hands are going to be in your mouth.

Are there any unexpected places that food gets stuck in your mouth — areas that are especially tricky to get at?

A lot of times people forget the back of their very back teeth. I know it’s a little tricky to get all the way back there, but those areas tend to harbor a lot more plaque. Then make sure you floss both sides of the tooth. As you’re moving on from one tooth to the next, you just want to make sure you’re getting both the front and back surfaces.

Is there a specific type of floss do you recommend? Because I know flossing sticks are popular. Are those as effective or is it better to use just normal floss?

I tell my patients to use what they feel most comfortable with. So dentists and hygienists right now recommend Oral B floss more than any other brand. And I particularly liked the Oral-B Glide floss because it is so much going on between your teeth, and it slides up to 50 percent easier when you have really tight teeth. One of the things that I hear from a lot of my patients is that they just can’t get it in there, it’s too tight. If you use the Oral-B Glide, it’s a lot easier to slide in between the teeth. And then as far as floss sticks are concerned, they can be effective. If you’re on the go and you just need something, you know you’re in your car or you’re by the TV, but the one thing is I do like to make sure that my patients have an oral routine that they’re doing on a regular basis.

Do you have any tips for people who have trouble incorporating flossing into their routine?

You know it’s something that you should be doing every day, but I find that people still find it really challenging to get in there and do it as a routine. First of all, find the floss that works well for you. Find a special place on your bathroom sink, and put it in a nice pretty bowl so you see it every day, and you know it’s there. I always tell patients, it’s kind of like exercise. I would rather you floss three, four, five times a week, then floss every day for two weeks and then forget about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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