William Shakespeare would call the dilemma “To floss or not to floss?” For the work weary, child-raising, exhausted parent, the answer is usually, “Not me.”
They are not alone. Most Americans neglect flossing, and few realize its value in the fight against gum disease. A new Delta Dental Survey found only 40 percent of Americans (4 in 10) floss daily, and 1 in 5 Americans (20 percent) never floss. Those are hardly flosstastic statistics for America’s overall oral health.
The biggest bummer is most Americans are ignoring an immensely valuable tool to good oral health. Done properly, flossing removes food particles that stick to teeth creating colonies of bacteria (AKA, plaque) that promote inflammation and gum disease. Plaque hardens into tarter over time and wears away and gums and bone, eventually causing tooth loss. Flossing stops plaque clean in its tracks.
Yet many Americans don’t recognize flossing’s immense benefit, but see it as yet another time-consuming daily chore.
“Something as simple as flossing is, to a lot of people, a bane,” Duong T. Nguyen of the U.S. Centers and Disease Controls and an author of an extensive study of Americans’ flossing habits, told U.S. News and World Report. “They don’t want to do it. Yet, in the long run it can be so beneficial – it can prevent tooth loss and everything that comes with it.”
Avoid the Wacky Substitute Flosses
Even more puzzling is how some Americans resort to all sorts of unusual tools to remove food stuck in their teeth rather than floss, the Cadillac of food removal from teeth.
An entertaining, eye-opening 2017 survey by Waterpik and the American Dental Association of 1,005 adults found 61 percent of Americans have used their fingernails to remove food from their teeth. Other popular and unusual food extractors Americans report using in the survey include folder paper or cards (used by 40 percent of Americans), cutlery (21 percent), safety pins (14 percent), and, a method even MacGyver wouldn’t recommend, strands of hair (7 percent). We haven’t even mentioned some of America’s favorite unsanitary and unsafe food removal methods like twigs, paper clips, toenails, matchbooks, loose electrical wires, screwdrivers and pocket knives.
Ironically, 63 percent of people polled in the study admitted knowing their methods of food removal were far inferior to floss, dental picks, interdental brushes and water flossing tools.
“It’s really easy to use clean and safe items on-the-go and at home – like string floss, dental picks and water flossers,” said Dr. Brittany Seymour, an ADA spokesperson and assistant professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. “The key is finding what works best for you and stick with it every day. If you’re not sure, start by looking for products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
“That way, you know it’s safe for your teeth and will get the job done, removing germs rather than introducing them.”
Gum Disease’s No. 1 Enemy
Not only is flossing a much more comfortable and convenient means of removing food debris, it’s an invaluable weapon in the fight against gum disease, which inflicts a full 50 percent of Americans. Brushing alone can’t fully clean teeth, according to Alla Wheeler, RDH, MPA, an associate professor of the Dental Hygiene Program at the New York University School of Dentistry.
“Each tooth has five surfaces,” Wheeler told WebMD.com. “If you don’t floss, you are leaving at least two of the surfaces unclean. Floss is the only thing that can really get into that space between the teeth and remove bacteria.”
Flossing is quick, easy and always at the ready to help prevent gum disease. While 55 percent of non-flossing Americans in the Waterpik/ADA survey reported it takes too long, good, thorough flossing requires just two minutes per day and can go a long way to keeping your teeth and gums clean, healthy and smiling bright.
Here are 3 easy steps to mastering flossing:
- Floss Once A Day: Like anything, repetition is the key. A full daily flossing routine should include cleaning below the gum line, where dental plaque can go unseen and unreached by toothbrushes.
- Take Your Time: Moving quickly from tooth to tooth often leaves unchecked tarter buildup.
- Floss The Whole Tooth: Most people floss just one side of each of their teeth. To fully remove plaque buildup, floss each side of your tooth below the gum line.
“It’s one of those things people don’t know enough about,” Nguyen said. “We are telling people to floss. … Something as easy as flossing can prevent a whole host of other dental issues for you as you age and grow up.”