Since we are now in the season of spring cleaning, “turning over” and scrubbing our tiles with old toothbrushes, I figured it’s time to take another look at how we clean our mouths. Brush, floss, rinse...you’ve heard it many times leaving the dental office, but the question is: what do you do with that priceless advice?
Yes, brushing is the easy part for most, even though the average individual spends about 17 seconds and not the recommended two minutes. Rinsing is refreshing and gives you that sterile, clean feel. But what about dental floss?
Let’s face it: for whatever reason, floss gets a bad rap. No one likes to do it. We tell our patients every visit, “Don’t forget to floss!” but it seems to be ignored by most. Yes, there are those of you who fall into the perfect dental patient category—brushing, flossing and rinsing daily. However, sorry to say, you are the minority. The majority of people out there have an aversion to that famous string. After all, don’t most people look forward to forcing a piece of waxy thread in between hard-to-reach molars in the back of their mouths? So the question that I am frequently asked is, “Dr. Kalb, do I really need to floss?”
Let’s spend a few moments looking at where this all began…
It was 1819, when a Dr. Levi Spear Parmly from New Orleans recommended placing a waxy piece of string between the teeth to dislodge the irritating matter that a brush could not remove. He considered this the most important part of oral health care. In 1898, Johnson and Johnson patented it, and the rest, as we say, is history… And this idea hasn’t changed.
So does it really help? The answer is, YES!
Flossing removes plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and saliva. This goop collects below your gum line and can eventually harden into tartar. If the bacteria causes inflammation, well, that’s periodontal disease. Untreated it can lead to receding gums, tooth decay and tooth loss. Periodontal disease is extremely common; one in two people have it.
A recent survey was performed by the ADA regarding flossing. The results were truly mouth-dropping (sorry, pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist). Twenty-seven percent of adults lie to their dentists about how often they floss their teeth. Not only that, but more than a third of people surveyed would rather be doing unpleasant chores than flossing their teeth daily. Fourteen percent would rather clean the toilet. Nine percent would rather sit in gridlock traffic for an hour. And seven percent would rather listen to small children crying on a plane.
However, 27 percent sounded low. In fact, the president of the Academy of Periodontology conducted a survey and discovered that more than a third of Americans would rather do any unpleasant activity rather than floss. And that only 4 in 10 Americans floss every day; 20 percent never do. Some people find it so repulsive that they’d rather be “cleaning their toilet”!
So, why do most of us hate flossing so much? Well, the comments I frequently hear are: “It takes too much time,” “It’s hard to get between my teeth all the way back there,” “It’s slimy and makes a mess.”
All that being said, the benefits are real. For patients with a medical history of heart disease and diabetes, keeping a clean mouth free of excess bacteria and infection is critical. My patients who floss and come for their regular dental check-ups tend to have much healthier mouths. They don’t bleed and their breath is good. And if you start flossing at home and you bleed, bleeding is normal. It means you are cleaning out an area that may have localized irritation or infection. If you have pain, then either you are doing it wrong, or something else may be brewing, so see your dentist. Once you get the hang of it, and learn the proper way, it’s pretty simple and quick. And by the way, we know when you are lying...
So, start off at night, when most have a few extra minutes, and get out all that food from the day. Every day is ideal, but even a few times a week is better than none.
As we all frenzy in our Pesach preparations, and you are meticulous in cleaning your homes, pay a bit more attention to your mouth, and please floss!
I’d like to thank all my loyal readers. It’s been a wonderful year with you all, and I truly enjoy your feedback.
Wishing you and your families a happy and healthy Passover holiday.
With Dr. Brian M. Kalb