There is a lack of high-quality studies about how effective flossing is against dental disease, but if we take a look at the science behind dental cavities and gum disease, the answer to this question is clear.
Bacteria in our mouth feed on the sugars and carbohydrates in our food, and start producing acid. This acid breaks down the mineral of our teeth, first exhibiting as chalky surface porosity, and eventually turning them into the holes we know as ‘cavities’.
Gum disease is caused by a different group of bacteria. When these bacteria sit around and under our gums, they trigger inflammation and this is what appears as puffy, red gums that bleed easily.
Whether it is cavity-causing or gingivitis-causing bacteria (and don’t forget they cause bad breath too!), they exist on our teeth in a sticky layer of plaque, and this biofilm can only be removed by mechanical means such as brushing and flossing.
If your teeth are touching each other and your toothbrush is not able to access the sides of your teeth, you need to floss!
After gently sliding the floss in between the teeth, make sure to lean the floss against one tooth and wipe up and down, before repeating it against the other tooth. This creates a wiping action that mechanically disrupts the biofilm, and ensures you are not just slamming the floss down onto the gum between the teeth. You should be able to pass the floss gently under the gum without causing pain!*
It may be tricky at first, but ask your dentist for a demo! Keep practicing and soon you’ll be able to floss without even having to stare at the mirror. Flossers (a plastic tool that holds the floss for you at one end) can make things easier, or simply tie a longer piece of floss into a big loop so you can hold it in both hands rather than maneuvering with just your fingers.
*If you have more advanced gum disease or certain anatomical variations in your teeth, other inter-dental cleaning aids may be more suitable for you. Ask your dentist to recommend the best tools suited to you!
Dr Pauline Lee is a Singapore and Canadian trained dentist with a special interest in children’s dental health. If you want to make an appointment to see Dr. Pauline Lee, please call 6733 9882.