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Peter Spennato: Is Flossing As Important As It Seems?

Dr. Peter Spennato offers general dentistry, dental implants, and teeth whitening services in California. More than anyone, he knows the importance of good oral health. One of the ways to achieve a healthier mouth is to floss regularly. Dental floss helps to prevent gum disease by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance made of bacteria. If it builds up, the bacteria can irritate the gums and cause inflammation. If your dentist advises you to clean between your teeth (interdental cleaning), they may recommend using dental floss.

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Dental floss is a thin, soft thread made of nylon or plastic that removes food and plaque from between your teeth. Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If your teeth are close together, try thin floss (sometimes made of Gore-Tex) that bills itself as shred-resistant.

Unlike a toothbrush, which cleans the tops and outer surfaces of the teeth and gums, floss is an interdental cleaner—it’s designed specifically to clean the tight spaces between the teeth and the gap between the base of the teeth and the gums. These are places that a toothbrush can’t reach. And while antimicrobial mouthwash can kill the bacteria that form plaque, it can’t remove the stubborn tartar and bits of food that can lodge in these places. The American Dental Association suggests that flossing before you brush also helps make brushing more effective: With less plaque caught between your teeth, the fluoride in toothpaste can get to more parts of your mouth.

The places where the gums and teeth meet are where flossing plays its major role. Tiny particles of food can get lodged here, and plaque in this area will harden and accrete over time to form tartar, a thick deposit that only the dentist can remove with a scraper. Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis: red, swollen gums that are the first stage of gum disease. If left unchecked, the bacteria-laden tartar and plaque can spread even deeper below the gum line, causing periodontitis: severe gum disease characterized by severe inflammation and eventual tooth and bone loss. Flossing can help you avoid getting all these tooth and gum diseases.