Why You Actually Have to Floss, and Floss Correctly!

We see it every day: Patients tell us they floss, but they may not be doing it correctly, or they are completely honest and tell us they don’t. Frankly, what you do is your business, but since we are in the Teeth Business we want to at least tell you how flossing works and why it is imperative for your dental health, and then we will let you carry on from there.


Flossing has two main reasons as to why we do it. The first is to clean the sides of the teeth. If your teeth have spaces between them, you probably hate them, but many times these spaces the side of your teeth are self-cleansing, so lucky you! If a space is large enough, the sides of both adjacent teeth are exposed and you are far less likely to develop a cavity between your teeth. Flossing is still critical, and you will see why in a bit. Now, if a space is very small, this serves more like a food pack and then you need to floss essentially all the time, because it is a severe irritant and can lead to a localized gum disease, which is a story for another time…


Flossing will help reduce your chance of developing a cavity between the teeth because you are mechanically cleaning that contact area and the area just below the contact, where the plaque, debris and bacterial byproducts like to accumulate; flossing is essential for your gum health, and this is why your hygienist or dental health professional performing your cleaning can tell if you haven’t been flossing regularly before the dentist even takes a look.


The gums that cover the bones of the mouth and surround your teeth make a tight seal to the tooth in the healthy mouth. There is connective tissue linking your teeth and gums and bones. There is a small space that exists, though, for saliva to move through, and that is considered healthy. This space is on the order of 1-3mm, and it surrounds each and every healthy tooth. Your toothbrush bristles are about 3mm in length, so when you are brushing your teeth your bristles are massaging this area underneath the gums and you didn’t even know it, but they can’t fully access the area between the teeth. A lot of our patients that attempt to floss daily don’t realize that the floss needs to be carried underneath the gum line in between the teeth to mechanically remove the bacterial byproducts. If left unaddressed for too long (just a couple of days), the bacterial byproducts irritate the tissues and cause a very small swelling – nothing a patient may notice, but very obvious to the dental health team. This is when your gums bleed;  they are inflamed. Bleeding isn’t a sign that you need to stop flossing; you need to do it more regularly to resolve the inflammation. If the inflammation persists, then it involves the connective tissue surrounding the tooth and degrades it, and in time this will degrade the bone surrounding the tooth, leading to premature mobility to the teeth and eventual tooth loss. No one wants to hear “you need to floss more,” but if you understand why you need to, then maybe it will be easier to pick up this new habit.


At Katy Trail Dental, we do not judge, we educate; because we want to focus on you and your oral health. Call to schedule your cleaning today!