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  • Writer's pictureKarl Walker-Finch

Flossing is a scam

Throwing a piece of string between your teeth every day is time consuming and ineffective. Yet every time you go to the dentist, you get told you need to floss more, right? When it comes to cleaning your teeth, flossing is completely useless because most people don't understand why they're doing it or know how to do it properly, leaving everyone begging the question: do I really need to floss?

We (dentists) tell our patients to floss and take some comfort in knowing that when you come back in six months and your teeth and gums aren’t any better, it’s your fault, not ours because you didn’t do what we said. So we tell you to floss again, and repeat the dance. One of the key skills in being a dentist is being able to communicate with our patients clearly and educate them on how to best look after their own teeth. Seeing the hygienist every three or six months isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference if what you’re doing every day is off the mark.

Like anything in life, you’re never going to change what you’re doing unless you understand why you need to. The onus is on your dentist to help you understand why cleaning between every tooth every day is important.

Does your dentist clean between every tooth every day?

The answer is almost certainly yes. Why? Because every day your dentist sees the damage that’s done when you don’t remove the plaque between your teeth.

Here’s a confession of my own, it wasn’t until after I graduated that I started my daily interdental cleaning routine. Five years of full time dental education didn’t get me to floss, it was when I started seeing the destruction every single day from not flossing that I started.

How did I start this habit? I was already brushing twice a day like a good boy, so I put the floss right in front of my toothbrush. I couldn’t get to my brush without getting past the floss. It was the little prompt I needed to remind me to get going with it. Now, it’s easy. In fact, I find it harder to not floss every day because I can tell I’ve not cleaned fully if I don’t.

I've seen 18-year-olds go off to university with immaculate teeth, their parents have instilled a rigorous twice daily brushing routine which they stick to, yet they come back at 21 needing half a dozen or more fillings, all of which have started between the teeth, where the brush doesn’t reach. Filings that will need to be replaced over and over again for the rest of their lives.

It’s worse for you if you’ve already got fillings, the micro gaps between the filling and enamel allow plaque to build up even easier meaning the filling is likely to need to be replaced much sooner due to more decay.

Most of the patients who come to see me, do clean between every tooth every day. Once they’ve started doing it, they see the difference themselves and keep going. My problem now is a nice problem to have, a lot of my patients don’t need extra treatment very often, I only get to see them once or twice per year.

You don’t have to use floss, in fact, the research suggests that using interdental brushes is actually more effective. You can use interdental brushes, water or air flossers, floss, superfloss (not quite as heroic as it sounds) or floss sticks, I don’t really care, as long as your doing something to disturb the plaque on the sides of your teeth that your brush doesn’t reach. Once you’ve started, go and see your dentist or even better, your hygienist and we can help perfect your technique.

Still not sure? Try it. Give it 2 weeks and see if you notice a difference.

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