Kevin Bacon probably isn’t among the people you’d think of as sources of good dental advice, yet there he was on a recent episode of the podcast School of Greatness, offering just that.
It came when the host, Lewis Howes, asked Bacon for three “truths” he would leave as his legacy instead of the dozens of films he’s made over the years.
“Take care of each other,” said Bacon. “Take care of the planet. And floss.”
Yet most Americans don’t. At least not regularly, and those who do aren’t necessarily doing it the right way, which kind of defeats the purpose. That purpose, of course, is to remove plaque and debris that your toothbrush (even the fanciest, most expensive toothbrush in the world) simply can’t reach.
The difference that flossing with the right technique makes was the focus of a recent study out of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.
Three dozen people with gingivitis – early stage gum disease – took part. Half were trained to floss using what’s known as the “adapted horizontal vertical flossing technique,” while the other half were free to floss in any way they liked.
After two months, those who were taught the proper technique had a 70% reduction in bleeding gums, a common symptom of gingivitis. The reduction was only 30% in the other group. As one of the study’s authors said in a news release,
This is the first study of which we are aware to prove that a person using floss with a specific technique will have less gum infection than a person who just does what they normally do.
But I haaaaaaaaaaaate flossing! you – and many others – might be thinking. Fair enough. But here’s the thing: Not flossing is…pretty gross. Brushing your teeth only cleans about 60% of all the tooth surfaces in your mouth. The spaces between teeth remain covered with plaque.
You wouldn’t wash only 60% of your body while bathting, would you? So why treat your teeth any differently?
But I haaaaaaaaaaaate flossing! you say.
Well, here’s the good news: There are other interdental cleaning tools that can be at least as effective.
One alternative to floss is an oral irrigator such as a Waterpik or Hydro Floss unit. Not only is a water flosser great for removing debris between teeth and along the gum line; it can flush the periodontal pockets around each tooth. Dark, wet, and lacking oxygen, these pockets are perfect harbors for harmful bacteria and other pathogens.
Additionally, it’s easy to add essential oils or natural antimicrobials to the water for an extra bit of cleaning power. (One terrific option is Under the Gums Irrigant from the Dental Herb Company.)
Interdental brushes are an even better alternative for cleaning between your teeth. These small round or cone-shaped brushes come in different dimensions so you can easily slide them between the teeth and massage the tissue at the top of the periodontal pockets.
Many patients find these brushes the simplest to use for interdental cleaning, as they’re small, flexible, and easy to maneuver. You can add a little antimicrobial power here, too, by dipping the brush into ozonated oil before slipping the brush between teeth. Ozone is a powerful, natural disinfectant – one we use in literally every procedure we do in our office.
Research suggests that interdental brushes are, in the words of one 2019 review, “at least as good if not superior to floss in reducing plaque and gingivitis.”
Although they are effective for patients regardless of their periodontal status (healthy or active), they are especially indicated in periodontal patients where widened embrasures are common. Added benefits include ease of use, patient acceptance, and recontouring of interdental tissues.
That same review found that while oral irrigators don’t appear to be as effective as interdental brushes for removing plaque, they’re still “a promising tool for reducing gingival inflammation” – a hallmark of gum disease. Both alternatives, the authors note, also appear to be better than floss for cleaning around dental implants.
If you’ve been slack with your flossing, why not give one of these alternatives a try? Or, if you really like to keep things old school, you can always work on improving your flossing technique. Here’s a quick tutorial to help you along.