Dental floss 101: Why you should floss, the effectiveness of flossing, how to floss, and more

Dental floss 101: Why you should floss, the effectiveness of flossing, how to floss, and more

Floss boss

Text: Cheryl Lai-Lim

Image: Instagram | @byhumankind
Image: Instagram | @moon

Say the words 'oral care', and the first products that instantly come to mind are toothbrushes and toothpastes, or perhaps even mouthwashes. Unfortunately (and realistically sorry dentists!), dental flossing is not at the top of everyone's priority list when it comes to maintaining those pearly whites. Not only does flossing seem to require a certain level of ambidexterity that has us twisting into pretzels over our bathroom counter, no one wants to waste an extra ten minutes flossing when we can be learning how to cut our own curtain bangs instead. And yet, dentists are adamant we floss our teeth for good oral health. To floss or not to floss...that is the question of the hour.

What's the point of flossing?

Brushing your teeth twice a day and swishing with a mouthwash isn't enough when it comes to proper oral hygiene. Food often gets lodged in between teeth, which can lead to a build-up of bacteria and plaque. This can eventually induce a myriad of issues, starting from cavities and tooth diseases. "So how do we remove all that harmful plaque? Brushing works well on exposed tooth surfaces. To get rid of plaque and food debris between teeth, we need a floss," writes Dr Helena Lee from the Specialist Dental Group in a blog.

The Raffles Medical Group recommends flossing at least once a day to prevent plaque from calcifying to limestone (otherwise known as calculus or tartar). Once formed, tartar is unable to be removed through brushing or flossing. It can only be dislodged by dentists. This is why your dentist often recommends flossing, to help lift and release food and plaque stuck amongst your gnashers. Whilst brushing only removes plaque from the front and back surfaces of your teeth, flossing can get to the tiny areas in-between teeth for a more precise clean.

Will I get whiter teeth from flossing?

Whilst flossing does not whiten your teeth instantaneously, it does help remove and reduce bacteria and plaque build-up. By doing so, your teeth look brighter and healthier. These days, whitening floss are also available on the market. Although not a direct whitening solution for your teeth, whitening floss are either coated with microscopic abrasive silica particles or treated with compounds such as calcium peroxide to help your tooth whitening process.

Not all flosses are created equal

It might come as a surprise, but these little rolls of strings are sold in overwhelming varieties. Unwaxed floss don't have a layer of coating, so they're thinner without any flavouring, making them suitable for those needing a slimmer floss that's easily manoeuvrable. Waxed floss, on the other hand, is the standard floss most people use as it's less likely to break or snap off. Dental tape, which is broader and flatter than standard flosses, covers more surface area and thus might be better for those with wider gaps between their teeth. Super flosses are available in varying widths with stiffer ends, making flossing a breeze for those with braces, bridges and implants. do you floss?

Here comes the winning question: how do you actually floss? The general consensus is to start with around 18 to 24 inches of floss. Wind most of the floss around each of your finger, leaving about two inches of floss to work with. Holding the floss between your thumb and index fingers, gently slide the floss up and down in a 'C-shape' between your teeth, working it beneath the gum line on both sides. Repeat from tooth to tooth with a clean section of floss. For the common folk who weren't born with the flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, there are other flossing options available. Floss picks are great easy alternatives, especially when it comes to reaching your molars at the back of your mouth. Water flosses have also been picking up traction with their simple and fuss-free settings.

While there have been great debates on whether one flosses before or after brushing, flossing before does make more sense. The floss can help dislodge food wedged in between teeth, before brushing to remove these particles out. Whatever you choose, just remember that the simple act of flossing can help save a tedious dentist trip to have your teeth pulled. So, to floss or not to floss...we say floss.