Dental Floss

There has been some publicity in the press recently about the usefulness of using dental floss as part of your oral hygiene regime, so I thought I should give my advice on the matter.

Dental floss helps to prevent gum disease by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance made of bacteria. If it builds up, the bacteria can irritate the gums and cause inflammation. Using dental floss is fiddly and can be difficult to do properly but it is important to realise that a toothbrush can only reach certain area of the tooth surface.

Dental plaque (the sticky substance that contains bacteria which cause most dental problems) builds up on teeth surfaces very quickly. Some areas like the biting surface and faces of the teeth are partially “self- cleansing” as the tongue and cheek brushing against them keep them clean. Other areas, in particular the vulnerable site at the join of tooth and gum, need to be kept clean by regular tooth brushing. However it the surfaces inbetween the teeth, that are often impossible to reach with a brush, where dental floss can help.

These inter-dental spaces are vulnerable to decay as bacteria in the plaque convert sugar in food into acid which sits on the tooth surface damaging the enamel. As we get older it is periodontal (gum) disease that becomes more of a problem. Bacteria in plaque near the gums cause inflammation which leads to bleeding, gum recession and loss of supporting bone. The inter-dental areas are particularly vulnerable as food and plaque builds up in these areas very quickly.

Dental floss has been shown to be a very good way to remove inter-dental plaque if done properly. This should involve a gentle sawing action being careful not to force the plaque further up into the gums.

Many people find flossing difficult to do but there are alternatives. A water pick is a small power jet that blasts water into the inter-dental areas. It is very effective but can be rather messy! Inter-dental brushes are less fiddly to use than floss although may not be able to get into the smallest gaps. Antiseptic mouthwashes attack the bacteria directly, so while they do not remove inter-dental plaque they help keep the gums healthy.

Your dentist should be able to advise which oral hygiene products are most suitable for you to help maintain a healthy mouth.