December 14, 2015
There are countless brands and types of oral hygiene tools at a patient’s disposal these days. The choices can be overwhelming, even when it comes to selecting dental floss. Do you want waxed, unwaxed, flavored, round, or wide? Is a certain type more effective?
Origins of Dental Floss
Dental floss removes bacteria and food particles trapped between teeth. Historians primarily credit the invention to Levi Spear Parmly, a practicing dentist in New Orleans in the early 1800’s. He often recommended that patients should use waxed silk thread to help “dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove, and which is the real source of disease.” His words still ring true today.
Is Flossing Important?
The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) says flossing is the single most important protection patients have against the formation of plaque. Regular brushing cleans just the surface of your teeth. But often bacteria and food particles get trapped in those hard to reach places between teeth and along the gumline. This buildup of plaque can lead to gum disease, cavities, infection, decay, and eventually tooth loss if left untreated. These oral infections can also contribute to heart disease, an unhealthy body mass index, and diabetes. Which is why flossing, even twice a week, has numerous benefits.
Benefits of Flossing
Flossing, when done properly and regularly, helps:
Wax vs Unwaxed Floss
In the early 1800’s they made floss out of silk. Today most floss is made from plastic squeezed into long, thin strands. Some floss gets a wax coating to make it easier for the string to thread between tightly spaced teeth. There are also different flavored coatings and even some fluoride coatings. Floss can also come in different shapes, like flattened floss which increases the contact area with the teeth. Other shapes include spongy, round, and threader floss with a stiffened-end. There is even an expanding floss that expands slightly between teeth and grabs even more plaque.
Which is More Efficient?
Multiple studies show there is no statistical difference in the effectiveness of unwaxed or waxed floss. Ultimately the choice is between the patient and the dentist and should be based on patient needs and preference. So here are a few tips for making the best choice between wax and unwaxed dental floss.
Waxed floss is a better choice if you:
Unwaxed floss is a better choice if you:
More and more patients want to limit their personal contact with industrial chemicals and help protect the planet where they can. Many waxed flosses have Teflon and petroleum chemicals, which are potentially harmful. This is often why they go for more natural materials like silk and beeswax. But honestly, any professional dentist will tell you, the best dental floss on the market is the one you will use. As long as you practice proper flossing technique, it doesn’t matter what type of dental floss you choose.
Proper Flossing Technique
Break off about 18 inches of fresh floss and wind the majority around one middle finger. Wrap the other end around the other middle finger, keeping about an inch between them, and hold floss tightly between two hands. Gently glide the floss between your teeth up to the gumline. Then curve the floss against the surface of one tooth and gently slide it up and down in a brushing motion. Do not snap the floss into the gums, or the force might cut or cause bruising to the soft tissue. Then curve the floss along the surface of the neighboring tooth and gently clean that side. To remove floss, use a gentle sawing motion to bring the material out and away from teeth. Roll the floss around your fingers, and use a clean section as you move on to the next tooth. Work slowly and deliberately until you have cleaned your entire mouth, include the back sides of your back molars. Finish by rinsing with water or mouthwash and throwing out your used piece of floss.
If you are new to flossing or have extremely sensitive gums, you might consider staring with a waxed or wide floss (dental tape). These types slide more easily between teeth and are less likely to break. Then, once you have a handle on the oral hygiene habit, make the switch to a different kind of unwaxed floss if you prefer. Just be sure and consult with your dentist if you have questions or concerns.