John C. Chao, DDS, MAGD

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry USC

(626) 308-9104

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John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Anxiety Management,
Behavior Science,
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry

Floss Only The Teeth You Want To Keep

Yes, floss only teeth you want to keep, and forget the rest! Seriously, only floss removes plaque and debris that adhere to tooth surfaces between teeth. Toothbrushes do not reach these in-between spaces. Since caries (cavities) and gum disease develop most frequently between teeth, the wise choice is to floss the teeth, rather than lose them. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, "Floss is the single most important weapon against plaque, perhaps more important than the toothbrush." Of course, this is not to say you don't need to brush your teeth. Brushing should always be done, followed by flossing.

Bluntly speaking, flossing requires a certain level of manual dexterity that many people don't have and a steep learning curve for which many people don't have patience. However, there is an easier way. This is called the "loop method." Take an 18-inch piece of floss and tie together the two ends, to form a circle, or loop. Place all your fingers within the loop except for the thumb. Then simply use your index fingers to guide the floss through the lower teeth, and the thumbs to guide the floss through the upper teeth. Try it. It's easy.

If you still don't like it, try "floss-holders." These devices, which may be disposable, can be shaped like a miniature sling-shot, with the floss stretched between the two prongs. Or, they can look like a miniature hack-saw, with the floss stretched between two ends. With the aid of a mirror and very little practice, you can get the floss between the teeth without too much trouble.

Now that you've got the floss in between your teeth, what do you do? First of all, don't cut your gum by going down too far. And don't drag the floss back and forth like you are polishing your shoes. Just go up and down between the teeth. That's all.

Do it between all the teeth at least once a day. If your gums bleed easily, be sure to see your dentist. You might have gingivitis, or periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease.

If you feel that even floss doesn't quite get all the debris out, then, in addition to flossing, you can buy or obtain from your dentist special brushes designed to get between the teeth. They are called "proxy brushes." Shaped like a pipe-cleaner with an angle, these tiny brushes can be slipped between the teeth. Back and forth movement of the tiny brushes will further clean and remove plaque and debris that may remains after flossing.

If you have certain spots between the teeth that almost always trap food when you eat, it's a good idea to bring some floss with you so that you can floss after meals. However, it also advisable to use "proxy brushes" to cleanse those food traps after meals. Some brands of proxy brushes come with a convenient cap, so that you can keep it in your purse or pocket. If you have these habitual food traps, you should consult your dentist about how these spaces may be closed. Filling, crowns, or even orthodontic treatment may be necessary. If left untreated, food traps can lead to gum disease, or cavities despite regular flossing.

Lastly, waterpicks are also effectively in cleaning between the teeth, but only after you brush and floss first. Waterpicks are especially recommended if you have bridge work. Your dentist may also suggest that antibacterial agents or mouth wash be mixed with the water in the waterpick to better control bacterial infection of the gums.

Even though brushing and flossing greatly reduces your risk of cavities and gum disease, you still need to see your dentist regularly to check for abnormal changes.


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