Flossing has come under fire recently. The U.S. Department of Health excluded a recommendation of floss in its latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans updates, claiming there’s not enough evidence flossing prevents gum disease or tooth decay.
We, however, believe you should keep flossing.
Flossing has been shown to reduce inflammation and bleeding of the gums, but only in short-term studies. The cost of a long-term study would take years and would cost a lot of money. Plus, there would be ethical ramifications from the non-floss group if flossing turned out to prevent long-term disease.
While flossing may not have a whole slew of evidence in its favor, it is low-risk and doesn’t cost a lot. So we’ll keep recommending it.
But choosing floss, believe it or not, can be complicated.
You might ask, How is it complicated? It’s just a piece of thread.
Floss is more than just a piece of thread. Consider these factors when determining which floss is right for you.
Three Types of Floss
Before you can determine specific preferences, you first have to decide between three types of floss:
- Nylon floss
- Monofilament floss
- Dental tape
If you aren’t sure which one you use, it’s probably nylon floss. Nylon floss is the most common. But, in some circumstances, you might consider a different type.
Drop the nylon floss if:
- Your flossing experience often involves the floss ripping or tearing. Nothing can be more annoying than having to unravel a new strand of floss from the spool because your strand snapped in two halfway through flossing. If this is a frequent occurrence, you may want to consider monofilament floss. It’s made of either rubber, plastic, or polytetrafluoroethylene — not fabric, like nylon — so it doesn’t shred as easy.
- You have a lot of bridgework or wide gaps between your teeth. In these cases, you may want to consider dental tape. Dental tape is wider and flatter than nylon tape, so it can more effectively clean out spaces between teeth.
If these aren’t concerns for you, nylon floss is a little cheaper.
After choosing which type of floss, you still have another decision to make.
Wax On or Wax Off?
Should you buy waxed floss or unwaxed?
Well, both will do the trick.
And, when weighing pros against cons, some of the pros are subjective. For example, one camp claims waxed floss is easier to slide between crowded teeth, due to the wax coating on the nylon. The other camp, however, cites unwaxed floss as being easier to maneuver, due to its being thinner than waxed floss.
Some qualities to consider when purchasing floss include:
Waxed floss is more flavorful. Let’s face it: When flossing tastes good, you’re more likely to make it a part of your routine. The same goes for your children: If bubblegum flavored floss works as an incentive for them, then waxed floss is probably the way to go.
This could also be just as much incentive to go with unwaxed. If you’re pregnant, for example, the flavor could trigger nausea.
Unwaxed floss squeaks against clean teeth. Unwaxed floss will squeak against clean teeth, signaling to you plaque has been removed.
Most waxed floss is coated in Teflon. Teflon is a tough synthetic resin made by polymerizing polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as the stuff used on non-stick cookware. Some people claim Teflon can be toxic to the body and can cause health issues like certain types of cancer. The American Cancer Society, however, does not suspect it of causing cancer.
Once you’ve figured out what type of floss works best for you, you might have one more option to consider.
Depending on your circumstances, you might need certain flossing tools.
For example, if you can’t wrap floss around your fingers, or if you have to floss for a parent or child, you may want to consider a Y- or U-shaped floss holder. Rather than thread a strand of floss between two fingers, you can use a pre-threaded device for farther reach or easier maneuverability.
Or you may want to consider a floss threader. A floss threader comes in handy if you have wide gaps between your teeth or if you have a child with braces.
The threader is a flexible piece of plastic with a loop at one end. For braces, link a strand of floss to the loop, then slide the pointed end of the threader through the bridgework of the braces until the linked strand of floss has access to the tooth.
Five Steps to Better Flossing
While it’s a good idea to find the right floss for you, what’s more valuable is flossing the right way. Flossing, like brushing, should take about two minutes and incorporate these five steps:
- Start with an 18-inch strand of floss. Wind most of it around one of your middle fingers and the rest around the same finger on your other hand.
- Tighten floss with about an inch of floss between your hands. Glide floss between teeth with a gentle sawing motion.
- Curve it into a C against your tooth.
- Hold the floss against each tooth, gently scraping the tooth’s side while moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on all teeth. Don’t forget the back ones.
- Rinse to remove any loosened plaque and food particles.
Flossing may be under fire by some, but it is another tactic for removing plaque buildup on teeth. So, by using the right kind of floss, coupled with the right technique, you can expect results.