You probably grew up hearing how important it is to brush your teeth at least twice a day to maintain good oral health, but brushing alone won’t do the job. If you’re not flossing, you’re not cleaning 35% of each tooth’s surface.
Flossing reaches the areas between your teeth and under the gum line—places a toothbrush can’t reach.
The American Dental Association recommends cleaning between your teeth daily to help prevent cavities and gum disease. Cleaning between your teeth helps remove plaque, a sticky film that contains bacteria that feed on leftover food or sugar in your mouth. When this happens, it releases an acid that can eat away at your teeth’s enamel and cause cavities.
Plaque that isn’t removed can harden into a rough substance called tartar or calculus. Tartar collects along the gum line and can lead to gum disease. Once tartar forms, only a dentist or dental hygienist can remove it.
Keep in mind that cleaning between your teeth shouldn’t be painful. If you’re too rough, you could damage the tissue between your teeth. If you’re too gentle, you might not be removing any food. It’s normal to feel some discomfort or pain if you’re not used to flossing, but don’t give up. Any discomfort should ease within a week or two. If pain persists, talk to your dentist.
Dental picks are another way to clean between your teeth. Water flossers are good for people who can’t floss with their hands or have dental work that makes flossing difficult. While there are several other options available, flossing is the most effective way to clean between your teeth.
When you visit the dentist, ask the dental hygienist to teach you how to floss. Once you learn the proper technique, pick a time of day when you can devote an extra minute or two to your dental care.
Dental floss is available in many forms—waxed, unwaxed, flavored, extra-strength, and so on. But the most important difference is thickness.