I hear it repeatedly: “How often do you brush your teeth?” “Twice a day, morning and night.” “How often do you floss?” Crickets…
“I don’t know why they have cavities. They eat well, and we brush their teeth.” “How often do you floss?” Crickets again! After I figure out how these crickets got into my office, I begin to set the stage for a flossing discussion.
Flossing, in my mind, is one of the most misunderstood aspects about oral health care. We’ve heard it our whole lives. Flossing is good for your teeth and gum health. But what does it really do? It clears plaque and food debris from between our teeth and from under our gums. You know this! But do you know what plaque is?
70% of plaque is bacteria and the remaining 30% are sugars and proteins that help bacteria stick to your teeth. The next question is, what does plaque do to my teeth? We all have bacteria in our mouths whether we clean our teeth or not. Every time we eat and drink, the bacteria eat and drink. When we eat, our body breaks down the food, keeps the nutrients and gets rid of the waste. Bacteria are the same, but bacteria’s waste is in the form of acid. This acid attacks our enamel and makes our teeth susceptible to cavities (a hole created by the acid attack). This process occurs on any and all surfaces of the teeth. Between the teeth is no different…well, I guess it is. It is the hardest place to reach and clean effectively. Our saliva does not rinse the area as well as the other tooth surfaces, and it is easier for bacteria to gather in these spots.
What is the one thing that motivates people to floss their teeth? They can feel or see food in between their teeth. In my mind, the reason people brush two times a day is they can visibly see and feel a difference on their teeth. Brushing is seen as effective; thus, it is incorporated into our daily routine. Flossing, on the other hand, is subtler with its effect, so it is under-valued and seen as a hassle.
Research shows that cavities form more frequently between the teeth than on the biting and smooth surfaces of the teeth. It also shows that cavity rates are highest in younger populations than older. For these reasons, I will always be vigilant about educating my patients and their parents about flossing. Cavities, for the most part, are preventable and implementing flossing will help tremendously!