You get the spiel every time you’re in the dentist’s chair, so you know flossing is important for your oral health. And yet you struggle to live up to your hygienist’s very high standards. Many people do.
Flossing may not be fun, but it’s important for your oral health. One study in the Journal of Periodontology notes that only around 32% of American adults surveyed floss every day. Comparatively, about 36% said they floss intermittently throughout the week, while about a third said they don’t floss at all.
That’s a big problem, the researchers add, because when plaque accumulates between the teeth and isn’t removed daily, it can lead to increased inflammation, gum disease, and even tooth loss.
“Plaque is a sticky film of food and bacteria that forms on your teeth and between the teeth, where your toothbrush can’t reach,” says Robert Berry, DDS, a dentist in Broomfield, Colorado. “If it’s not removed, it can harden and turn into tartar, and that can cause problems, including tooth decay.”
Gum diseases such as gingivitis can affect the soft tissue around the teeth, causing it to become infected. In severe cases, it can also destroy the bone that holds your teeth in place. That can loosen teeth or make them fall out.
But traditional dental floss doesn’t work for everyone, he adds. If you have braces, for example, or simply can’t reach all the spots in between your teeth, flossing may not help as much as you’d like. Or you might just hate doing it.
“Often, our patients look for an alternative to flossing due to dexterity issues, but there are some patients who simply have a preference for other options,” says Alexander Harris, DDS, in Lehi, Utah.
Fortunately, flossing isn’t the only way to rid your mouth of plaque. Here are 3 dental floss alternatives to consider.
“Interdental” actually means “placed between the teeth,” so you have a good idea how this type of brush works. They’re small and look like tiny trees. You simply insert one between your teeth to remove plaque and food particles, says Dr. Berry. They’re available in different sizes to fit different spaces between teeth.
A research review published in Dentistry Journal found that interdental brushes are at least as good as dental floss in reducing plaque and gingivitis. They’re also easy to use and have high patient acceptance, according to researchers from the National University of Singapore and the National Dental Centre Singapore.
Floss picks have a toothpick-like part on one end, which can have a rough exterior for disrupting plaque buildup. The other end has a small piece of floss attached to a U-shape piece of plastic.
“These can be easier to use than traditional floss, and they can be a good option for people who have difficulty reaching all of their teeth,” says Dr. Berry.
Although interdental brushes and floss picks are reasonable alternatives to traditional floss, in some ways water flossers are superior to floss, says Dr. Harris (though they also cost more than the other 2 options).
“While we still find great benefit to flossing with nylon or Teflon floss, we have found that water flossing is a game changer for gum health,” he says.
Water flossers are just what the term implies: They use a stream of water delivered at a steady pressure to remove plaque and food particles from teeth. These tend to be more effective than other alternatives because they can reach all areas of the mouth and are less likely to cause gum irritation, says Dr. Berry.
“Water flossers are also easy to use, and they can be a great option for people who have difficulty reaching all of their teeth,” he says.
One thing to note about traditional dental floss, water flossers, or any other alternative: If you use them incorrectly, they might not provide you with the benefit they’re supposed to, says Dr. Harris.
For example, consider asking your dental hygienist or dentist to show you how best to use floss at your next scheduled cleaning. Learning how to do it the right way can ensure that you’re getting the most out of your flossing sessions. And try to make it an everyday habit. Flossing might be an extra step in your nightly routine, but it can help keep your mouth (and smile!) healthy.
This advertisement contains information compiled by Golden Rule Insurance Company. Golden Rule Insurance Company does not represent that these are statements of fact. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.
Dentistry Journal. June 1, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6630384/
Journal of Periodontology. March 26, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6434526/