Home > Blog > October 2016 > Is Flossing Your Teeth Important?

Is Flossing Your Teeth Important?

Posted: October 3, 2016 by Dr. Kimberly Peacher
Pima Medical Institute Dental Hygiene students train with each other in the lab at the Houston campus.

You hear it all the time--at the dentist's office, in television commercials, from your mother--flossing is important for your health.

But this summer media reports called into question the effectiveness of flossing, suggesting it’s just not necessary for good oral hygiene.

Pima Medical Institute Dental Hygiene students work in the lab at the Houston campus. Pima Medical Institute Dental Hygiene students work in the lab at the Houston campus.
News stories reported there’s a lack of evidence either way on whether flossing improves oral health and helps fight off gum disease. Dental professionals disagree, citing that you do not need evidence to prove that cleaning the whole tooth makes sense.  If you clean the front and the back, why would you skip the spaces in between?

In the healthcare field, much of what we do is decided based on a comparison of risk versus benefit. There is minimal risk associated with cleaning the spaces in between your teeth; however, the benefit of cleaning these surfaces can be far greater.

More than half of Americans have some form of gum disease—a bacterial infection of the gums that may extend into the surrounding tissue and bone, potentially resulting in tooth loss.  Cleaning all the surfaces of the tooth reduces the bacterial accumulation and may prevent gum disease or its progression. 
Cleaning between the teeth may also:
  • Prevent cavities
  • Prevent staining and discoloration
  • Improve breath odor
  • Protect current dental work
  • Remove food debris and plaque 
Currently, the best defense against periodontal disease includes regular visits to a dental office and daily removal of plaque. Without that care, you may start to see signs of gums disease, including:
  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding
  • Pus
  • Bright red gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Tender gums
  • Tooth loss
  • Spaces between teeth
Many people just simply don’t realize is that it’s important to clean between your teeth—that these areas accumulate food, plaque, and bacteria just like the rest of the tooth—you just can’t see it or feel it. Cleaning in between the teeth, however, can be done in several ways, not just flossing. Not everyone is able to floss—there are a variety of medical conditions and physical limitations that can affect the ability to floss­—so alternatives are available.
Here are other effective ways to clean between your teeth:
  • Oral (water) irrigators: use pulsated water
  • Powered flossers: battery-operated flossers that have a stem-like end that goes in between the teeth
  • Air flossers: powered flosser that uses micro droplets of water and air
  • Floss picks or flossers: plastic toothpick-like items with a thin thread of floss attached to a  y-shaped end
  • Interdental brushes: come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can fit into just about any sized space (look like mini pipe cleaners)
  • Soft picks: another brush-like item with a very thin, small rubbery end
  • Toothpicks and stimudents: wooden sticks of a variety of shapes and sizes
 Here are some other tips on keeping up on oral hygiene at home:
  • Brushing at least two times a day for two minutes with a soft brush
  • Using a fluoridated toothpaste
  • Using an anti-gingivitis mouthwash
  • Avoiding sweets or sugary beverages or cleaning teeth after their consumption
 And of course, using SOMETHING to clean in between your teeth, but flossing, specifically is not required. 

Dr. Kimberly Peacher is Pima Medical Institute’s Dental Hygiene Program Director at the Houston campus. Before entering education, she spent 12 years working as a dental hygienist. She graduated with a BS in dental hygiene from Western Kentucky University, an MEd in curriculum and instruction from American Intercontinental University, and a Doctor of Health Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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