Flossing is essential to good health

Flossing is essential to good health

Photo: Gpoint Studio

Many people have now gotten into the habit of diligently brushing their teeth twice daily. If you’re one of them, good for you! However, many people are lax about flossing. In India, the practice is not common, even among dentists. In one survey, 15% of dentists responded that they never use floss and only 1 in 5 dentists said they floss daily. While 86% of dentists agreed that flossing was an essential part of dental hygiene, only 64% prescribed the practice to their patients. However, flossing has several significant benefits, so include it in your dental care habits, if you haven’t done so already.

Floss to get the debris your brush couldn’t

Even thoroughly brushing your teeth isn’t always enough to get rid of food debris and sneaky bacteria hiding in between teeth. Flossing gets right into the interdental spaces and helps remove dental plaque. Plaque houses microorganisms that convert carbohydrates you have eaten into acid. This acid in turn damages your enamel and that’s the first step towards tooth decay.

To protect your gums

Plaque can also build up along the gum line and lead to gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums. Flossing can help dislodge the plaque. Peter Lockhart, a professor at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., says, “There’s no question that if you take 100 people off the street, and they all have the same diet and everything else the same, but one group flosses and one doesn’t, you would find more inflammation and gum problems and perhaps bone loss in the group that did not floss. If you want to keep ’em, you’ve got to keep ’em clean.”

To reduce risk of heart disease

There is significant evidence that periodontal diseases (diseases of the teeth and surrounding areas) are linked to ailments such as cardiovascular diseases. One theory is that plaque gets into the blood stream and starts to build up in arteries, causing heart disease. Therefore regular flossing can help reduce the risk. WebMD states that according the American Academy of Periodontology, “people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (also called heart disease). And one study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.”

Learning to floss properly

While flossing is important, doing it improperly may also cause damage. Since teeth are often touching each other tightly, trying to push the floss in-between may cause it to snap through and damage the gums. According to Lockhart, “You should saw the floss through the contact point — not snap it through, because on the other side it will lacerate the gum tissue and it will hurt.”

Here are the basic steps to flossing:

  1. Take enough floss to be able to wrap it around your fingers several times. At least 30 cm (12 inches) are needed, and 45 cm (18 in) are ideal.
  2. Wrap the floss around the middle finger of each hand several times, then hold it between thumb and fore-finger of each hand. You should have about 10-15 cms between your hands.
  3. Place the thumb and forefinger of one hand inside your mouth, behind the teeth.
  4. Start with the upper front teeth, as these are the easiest to floss.
  5. Moving the floss back and forth (inside and out) between two teeth, move the floss towards the gum.
  6. Once it’s near the base of the gum, bend the floss around the tooth, like a “C”, and continue to move it back-and-forth. The floss should be between the gum and the tooth.
  7. Bend the floss the other way and clean the other side.
  8. Start slowly, get used to the procedure, and then do the rest of the teeth.

It may be normal to get a tingly feeling in the gums after you finish flossing the first time. If there is pain or bleeding, stop and ask a dentist to help you.

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