The Importance of Flossing & Flossing Alternatives

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man awkwardly using his pinkie finger to pick food out of his teeth

Happy National Flossing Day!

What? You didn’t know there was a national flossing day? Well, evidently there is. It turns out it was first celebrated in 2000 and is always celebrated on black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. What better day to celebrate flossing than after a day of national eating! So be sure to floss before you head out to the stores for all those great deals.

Do you floss every day? If you do, you’re among the 10% to 40% of Americans who say they floss daily, depending on the study you reference and the honesty of those respondents.

A 2015 Harris Poll survey of over 2,000 Americans, discovered that over a quarter (27%) lied to their dentist about flossing and a fairly recent survey, conducted on behalf of Waterpik in consultation with the ADA, noted almost half (44%) of those they surveyed admit they have exaggerated to their dentist about how much they floss when asked.

closeup of a toddler eating corn on the cob
Do you only floss when
there’s something stuck
in your teeth?

The Waterpik/ADA survey also noted that 16% of people they surveyed said they always floss at least once a day while 20% said they only floss when something is stuck in their teeth (you know the usual suspects like corn on the cob, popcorn or steak). Sadly, 8% of the survey respondents admitted to never flossing at all.

It also highlighted the most common unusual (unsanitary and unsafe) things people have admitted to “flossing” with – like fingernails (61%) and folder paper or cards (40%).

Why People Hate Flossing So Much

man standing in the bathroom in front of a mirror pulling out a long strand of dental floss

That same survey I mentioned before notes the biggest reason non-flossers say they don’t floss is because it’s too time consuming (55%). Another 16% said it was too painful and 9% said they find it gross.

The Most Interesting Man in the World flossing meme

Most of us see flossing as a torturous endeavor, so much so that another survey revealed a list of things we’d rather do than floss. Evidently we’d rather wash a sink full of dirty dishes (18%), wait in a long check-outline (14%), clean the toilet (14%), sit in gridlock traffic for an hour (10%), or do taxes (9%).

I get it, it can seem complicated and time consuming to grab a length of dental floss, wrap it around your fingers and slide it in between all of your teeth to get rid of food and dental plaque. It takes two hands and if you have a full set of teeth it should take you about 2 minutes to do a decent job of flossing, particularly if you practice every day. You should also be brushing for 2 minutes. One of the reasons I love my Sonicare is because it lets me know when to move on to the next quadrant and it cuts off when I’m done to ensure I spend 2 minutes brushing.

Why Flossing Is Important

A few years ago Dr. Lake wrote about a press report that stated studies don’t support flossing, a report that was getting quoted ad nauseam since everyone can agree flossing is a chore we’d all like to be able to ignore. The bottom line is that cleaning between your teeth at least once a day, as well as brushing your teeth twice a day, is important.

Plaque builds up on your teeth within 24 hours which is why we’re always saying it’s important to floss daily. The use of interdental cleaners such as dental floss on a regular basis is one of the most effective ways to get rid of plaque and help prevent the buildup of plaque which can lead to decay, gum sensitivity, bad breath and gum disease. It’s also a great way to check your mouth for swelling or redness regularly.

Flossing can also make your teeth brighter by removing debris you can’t see (and that your toothbrush can’t reach). Think of a rug that doesn’t really look dirty yet seems to be brighter after a good vacuuming. The dust bag or bin will be full of debris that you might not have seen on the surface but was, in fact, trapped in the nap of your carpet.

Not only does daily flossing keep your teeth healthy, good oral hygiene also contributes to your overall health. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and arthritis have all been linked to gum disease and I have written about how having the wrong balance of bacteria in your mouth could have a negative impact on your brain health as well.

Flossing Alternatives

Dental floss has been around for a very long time and while it doesn’t seem like something you can re-invent, there are actually quite a few alternatives for cleaning in between your teeth. In addition to string floss, today’s consumers are inundated with “between the teeth” cleaning devices such as flossing sticks and picks, interdental brushes, and even battery-powered or electrical flossing devices.

The best way to know whether an interdental cleaner is right for you is by asking your dentist and hygienist.

Here is a list of interdental cleaners that are generally safe and effective when traditional string flossing isn’t possible or isn’t practiced for some other reason:

Flossing Sticks & Picks

photo of a bag of dentek flossing picks
(ADA Accepted)

Floss picks (like these DenTek picks) or floss sticks (like this Listerine flossing stick) are pretty popular.

Flossing picks have a piece of floss stretched and ready for flossing on one end and a curved plastic “pick” on the other end for dislodging that piece of popcorn you’ve got stuck in your teeth after the movie ends.

A flossing stick looks a bit like a toothbrush but has a stretched floss ‘holder’ where the brush head would otherwise be. You purchase the “stick” and then purchase replacement floss.

The nice thing about picks and sticks is that it makes one-handed flossing possible. Having the ability to brush and floss with one hand might increase the likelihood that you’ll actually floss since you can scroll through you’re social media feed with the other hand.

The drawbacks of flossing sticks and picks are that they use the same section of floss over and over again and you’re tossing plastic into the trash with each and every use.

In this category, there are also little wooden picks called Stim-U-Dent Plaque Removers which can be used in lieu of traditional string floss. These are a great alternative to traditional wooden toothpicks and the wood is biodegradable.

Waterpik Water Flossers

photo of a group of electric waterpik water flossers
(ADA Accepted)

Waterpik water flossers have been available for quite some time. The first oral irrigator was developed in 1962 by a dentist named Gerald Moyer and an engineer named John Mattingly and they’re still around.

Water flossers work through a combination of water pressure and pulsations (which is more effective than a steady stream of water). When you direct the water from the flosser tip at your gumline and between your teeth, it’s that combination (of pressure and pulsations) that helps clean away food debris and plaque.

You can adjust the pressure setting to your liking, from a gentle clean to maximum cleanse, though we’d caution you to use the gentlest setting until you get good at what you’re doing. Waterpik has also introduced a new flossing toothbrush that combines brushing with flossing, separately or together. Interesting, indeed!

Sonicare AirFloss

photo of 3 sonicare airfloss devices
(ADA Accepted)

Sonicare AirFloss serves as the latest interdental kid on the block. It is also an effective alternative to the traditional flossing with a microburst of water and air. A rechargeable unit with an easy-to-grasp, ergonomic handle and thin, angled neck, this slick-looking device has unique visual appeal. There is an on/off button in the device handle section. There is also a tank for about two teaspoons of your favorite mouthwash or water, and it has been found that it uses around a teaspoon of water/mouthwash per full mouth interproximal use. This can be the right time to combine an OTC antimicrobial or fluoride mouth rinse to AirFloss and get more than one desired result! It is easy to position between the teeth, and you have to press the mouse to activate a thin and slightly inclined nozzle.

AirFloss serves as a great way to combine interdental cleansing with an antimicrobial or fluoride (undiluted) mouthwash. What a marriage with a lot of potentials! AirFloss, as an interdental drug delivery device, is an excellent way for dental hygienists to adjust their medications for dental caries or gingival bleeding.

Changing The Way We Speak & Treat

We all know patients lie and exaggerate when dentists and hygienists ask about flossing. We also know patients can feel embarrassed and can fidget and compelled to do so.

This could be the time to ask the question in an entirely different way! Flossing is a general term that’s used to describe cleaning between your teeth, but it doesn’t really have to define technique. Maybe we should replace “Do you floss?” with a question that reflects the diversity of interdental cleaning products that are on the market.

Whatever method you use, if you don’t like using dental floss or don’t understand how to really do it correctly, we’re open to fielding questions and we’re open to discussing alternatives to traditional string floss, too. We are here to help you help yourself maintain a better level of oral care.

“The key is finding what works best for you to stick with every day. If you’re not sure, start by looking for products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. That way, you know it’s safe for your teeth and will get the job done, removing germs rather than introducing them.”

Dr. Brittany Seymour, ADA spokesperson and assistant professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine

It’s important to remember that flossing is an integral part of a healthy smile, not just on Black Friday, but every day.

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