Coast Dental Blog
Flossing 101: The Right Way to Floss

Flossing 101: The Right Way to FlossOne of our Coast Dental Facebook fans posed this question:  Should you floss before or after you brush your teeth?

We took an informal poll and it turned out about half of our friends and family members did it one way, and the other half did it the other way.  Does it make a difference?

The American Dental Hygienists’ Association says the right way is to floss, brush, then rinse with a mouthwash.

The logic is simple. You floss to remove food and plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that sits on your teeth, before the plaque has a chance to harden into calculus or tartar.  You then brush the food particles and plaque away with the toothbrush.

"If you flossed last, all that bacteria would just sit on your teeth instead of being swept away," explained Mary Gacanica, RDH, who was a registered dental hygienist in the Coast Dental New Tampa office.  "If the plaque has a chance to harden, then you need a professional cleaning to remove the calculus or tartar. If the tartar is not removed, it can lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gum tissue."

Many people don’t realize gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease.  If the infection is allowed to progress, the gums begin to pull away from the teeth, and the bone around the teeth could weaken, causing the teeth to become loose and eventually fall out or need to be extracted.

The American Dental Association, ADA for short, recommends you floss at least once a day.   Skipping even just one day can give the bacteria a chance to flourish, said Dr. Ricardo San Pedro, who was a dentist at Coast Dental New Tampa.

"Some of my patients ask me, 'Do I really need to floss?' I tell them to think about what would happen if you took a piece of meat and put it in a dark, warm, moist place and leave it there for a few days or weeks.  What do you think would happen?  Now, do you really want to leave pieces of food trapped in your mouth?”  Dr. San Pedro says once people understand that concept, they’re more than willing to take the extra 90 seconds to floss at night.

Gacanica says patients often think they have great oral hygiene because they brush their teeth twice daily.  In reality, they’re only removing 50 to 60 percent of the plaque, because the plaque between they’re teeth is still there.

"Brushing without flossing is like washing only two-thirds of your body," explained Dr. Geoffrey Jackson, another dentist at Coast Dental. "You are missing a third of your teeth, and that area is still covered with millions of bacteria that can cause embarrassing bad breath as well as cavities and gum disease."

The American Dental Association says flossing first has another benefit.  By cleaning out bacteria from between the teeth, the fluoride in your toothpaste has a better chance of getting into those tight areas to protect the tooth.  Fluoride helps prevent cavities.

You have to make sure you’re flossing effectively, though.  You shouldn’t just slide the floss up and down between your teeth.  Instead, take a section of floss and curl it around each tooth in a C-shape, moving it up and down to scrape the side of each tooth and sliding it gently under the gum line.  After you finish with one tooth, use a clean section of floss to scrape the next tooth; otherwise, you’re just moving the bacteria from one place to another.

Gacanica doesn’t recommend adults use floss picks, because they typically do not give you enough floss to use a clean section each time.  However, the hygienist does recommend floss picks for kids.  Gacanica, who is a mother of two, says parents should begin flossing children’s teeth as soon as the teeth start touching each other and food could get trapped between them.   Teaching children the importance of brushing and flossing while they’re young will instill great oral hygiene habits and expand their potential for having a beautiful, healthy and cavity-free smile for decades to come.

Written By: Beth Gaddis
Reviewed By: Mary Gacanica, RHD
Reviewed By: Geoffrey Jackson, DDS
Reviewed By: Ricardo San Pedro, DDS
Reviewed By: Cindy Roark, DMD

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