Do I really need to floss?

Jamie J. Alexander on January 26, 2015

The quick answer is yes; however, I would like to reword this question to “Do I really need to clean between my teeth?”

This is like asking, “Do I need to eat well?” or “Do I really need to be physically active?” Yes, it is all part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Every person has a different susceptibility or resistance to disease. You minimize your disease risk by leading a healthy lifestyle and having healthy habits such as, eating well, being physically active, not smoking, and visiting your dentist and primary health care provider on a regular basis.

Proper Dental Hygiene

And, you can reduce your risk of dental disease by practicing proper dental hygiene. My definition of proper dental hygiene is:

  • Effective removal of plaque on all surfaces of your teeth (front, back and in between), on a daily basis, by regularly brushing and flossing
  • Professional removal of tartar (calculus) by your dental hygienist every 3, 4, or 6 months, depending on how quickly it accumulates and your susceptibility to gum disease.

Plaque is a sticky film that develops on the teeth after meals, and is a combination of food particles and bacteria that loosely attach to ones teeth. Effective brushing removes this from the front and back surfaces of your teeth. It is dental floss that removes this from in between your teeth.

If you do not remove plaque through brushing and flossing, it hardens over time into a hard, crusty deposit called “tartar,” which is also, called “calculus.” This crust is typically yellow to brown in color and must be professionally removed in the dental office. That is to say that brushing alone will not remove it.

Only a small percentage of patients can get away without flossing and not build tartar (calculus). What happens to your health when this build-up occurs? More bacteria adhere to your teeth becoming a constant source of irritation to the gums. As bacteria feed on the carbohydrates on your teeth, they release acid that erodes tooth enamel with resultant loss of tooth enamel and cavities.

Helping Our Patients Floss

Knowing that flossing is a challenge for many of our patients, we take an individualized approach to figuring out how to best help our patients to clean between their teeth. We have many “tricks up our sleeve” to help find a method that is right for you. Some tricks include:

  • Different types of floss
  • Pre-made/ pre-strung flossers
  • Soft picks
  • Proxy brushes
  • Water flossers

In my perspective, even though some of these tools may not be quite as effective as traditional dental flossing, any cleaning is better than none. If you are not flossing regularly, we will determine if you should have your teeth professionally cleaned more frequently until you develop this healthy habit. Obviously, flossing and coming to the dental office for a professional cleaning every six months is more economical than not flossing and needing to have a professional cleaning every three months, and if problems develop, having treatment.

The bottom line is that if you are not flossing regularly, you are increasing your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. If you have any symptoms of tooth decay or gum disease, remember that these are progressive conditions that require treatment to stop. Call for an appointment immediately so we can get things under control before they worsen.

Also, remember, that you are ultimately responsible for doing what you can to improve and maintain your health. Flossing or alternatively cleaning between your teeth should be a priority in your life, like brushing your teeth, eating a proper diet, exercising regularly, visiting your doctor and dentist regularly, and complying with health care provider recommendations for your specific circumstances.