Most of us know that good oral health is important to our overall health and wellbeing. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and visiting your dentist twice a year keeps your teeth and gums healthy while preventing tooth decay and gum disease. But there is one part of the oral care routine that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

According to US News & World Report, only about 30% of adults are flossing their teeth every day. 37% say they do it some days, and 32% say they never floss at all. To make matters worse, NPR once reported that 27% of us lie to our dentists about how often we’re flossing. Based on these statistics, it’s clear that an article on flossing is long overdue.

Why is Flossing Important?

The point of good oral hygiene is to remove the bacteria that live in our mouth and causes cavities and gingivitis. Your saliva combines with the food and beverages you consume throughout the day and creates a substance called plaque. Plaque starts to form about 4 hours after you brush your teeth and builds up in between your teeth and along your gum line. It’s a clear or yellowish sticky substance that harbors a lot of bacteria. Because it’s sticky, it doesn’t easily rinse off your teeth – flossing and brushing are required to remove plaque.

Brushing your teeth alone reaches about 60% of your teeth. However, the bristles on a toothbrush are not designed for removing plaque from between the teeth. Flossing is the only thing that disrupts the plaque cycle in between your teeth, removing harmful bacteria, reducing your risk of periodontal disease.

Does Flossing Really Make a difference?

Absolutely! Flossing is one of the best tools in your arsenal against periodontal disease, in addition to lots of other dental benefits. Not only does it do a great job in between your teeth, but it also stimulates the gum tissue where gum disease often starts. The bacteria that live in the plaque on your teeth triggers an inflammatory response in your mouth, causing bleeding and receding gums. Regular flossing regularly removes plaque and keeps inflammation in check.

The bacteria that live in your mouth are also responsible for the germs that cause bad breath. Imagine what would happen if you never flossed your teeth. All that bacteria-filled plaque would just sit there, building up until it takes over your entire mouth. Removing plaque and the bits of leftover food in your mouth keeps your breath fresh and will keep you smiling all day long!

Why Don’t More People Floss?

There are a few reasons it isn’t easy to create a good flossing habit. Some people find flossing to be somewhat difficult. If the spaces between your teeth are tight or your mouth is small, it can be hard to get the floss where it needs to go. If this is a problem for you, getting waxed or coated makes it much easier to work it in between your teeth. Some people find that when they wrap floss around their fingers, it becomes too tight and cuts off circulation, which is obviously uncomfortable. Using a flossing stick or pre-threaded floss sticks solves the problem in a jiffy. You may also consider investing in a water flosser, which uses a high-pressure stream of water to clean in between your teeth. They cost more, but do an excellent job at reducing your risk of gum disease.

Another reason people forgo flossing is there’s no immediate gratification. When done brushing your teeth, you’re rewarded with a clean, fresh feeling in your mouth. That doesn’t happen after flossing. It’s just part of a proper oral health routine. Counteract those thoughts by remembering the long-term benefits of getting all the surfaces of each tooth clean and healthy.

Tips to Build a Good Flossing Habit

It takes a bit of effort to start flossing regularly, but the benefits to your oral health are worth it. When used in tandem, flossing and brushing is the best way to keep teeth and gums healthy. It removes plaque, reduces the risk of getting cavities and gum disease, keeps your breath nice and fresh, and even may help prevent heart disease. The best way to begin flossing regularly is to do just that…start.

Habits develop over time, and you don’t have to be perfect. Instead of going from never flossing to doing it every day, go for once a week and gradually increase from there. Place a visual cue, such as a brightly colored post-it note, on your mirror to help you remember. Don’t be alarmed if your gums bleed easily at first. Once you begin flossing more often, your gums will adjust (but if your gums continue to bleed, be sure to call your dentist). Many people don’t realize that the more you floss, the more your mouth will crave the feeling. Healthy gums enjoy the feeling of flossing, similar to a massage. To get the most benefit out of your new dental routine, you should be flossing at least once a day.

Make sure you use the proper techniques from the start. Choose floss approved by the ADA (American Dental Association) in any flavor you like. If you’re using regular dental floss, pull off about 18 inches and wrap it around your fingers, leaving about an inch free. Gently work it between each tooth, creating a c shape. Move your fingers back and forth to scrape the sides of each tooth gently. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll become second nature.

Complete Care for Your Smile

If you want to maintain good oral health, create a comprehensive oral care routine that’s easy for you to follow. Obviously, getting all the surfaces of your teeth clean is extremely important. When you are brushing or flossing, don’t rush. Make sure you take your time and do a thorough job. Not only should it take you two minutes to brush your teeth, but flossing should take just as much time. Use an antibacterial mouthwash to kill germs in other parts of your mouth, and keep your appointments with your dental provider for semi-annual exams and cleanings.

If you notice bleeding gums or any other signs of gingivitis, make an appointment earlier. When you put all the pieces of good oral hygiene together, you reap the benefits of good health.

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