Why Should I Bother Flossing?

African American Black man flossing teeth(BlackDoctor.org) – We know, we know, you don’t like to floss. But here’s a little secret: it’s not that high up on anybody else’s list of favorite things to do either. But, every six months, your dentist probably lectures about the importance of flossing. And you probably just ignore him or her.

“There is no instant gratification with flossing — that’s the problem,” says Alla Wheeler, RDH, MPA, associate professor of the Dental Hygiene Program at the New York University School of Dentistry. “Patients don’t think it does anything.”

Why Should I Bother?

Why? Because flossing does about 40% of the work required to remove sticky bacteria, or plaque, from your teeth. Plaque generates acid, which can cause cavities, irritate the gums and lead to gum disease. “Each tooth has five surfaces. If you don’t floss, you are leaving at least two of the surfaces unclean,” Wheeler explains. “Floss is the only thing that can really get into that space between the teeth and remove bacteria.”

Floss – An Overlooked Fountain of Youth?

Flossing, Wheeler says, might be an unrecognized source of youth and longevity. Gum disease can ruin the youthful aesthetics of your smile by eating away at gums and teeth. It also attacks the bones that support your teeth and the lower third of your face. People who preserve the height of that bone by flossing look better as they age.

Isn’t All Floss the Same?

No. 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. But people whose teeth are close together should try thin floss (generally the packages will read “shred resistant”).

For bridges and braces, either use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle, or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.

The most important thing, though, is to choose floss you’ll use. “I tell my patients, ‘I don’t care if you use shoe laces as long as you floss,'” Wheeler says.

Tips For Great Flossing

To floss the most effectively every time, follow these flossing tips from Edmond Hewlett, DDS, associate professor of restorative dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry:

• Perfect your flossing technique. Use a piece of floss 15 to 18 inches long, slide it between the teeth, wrap it around each tooth in the shape of a “C,” and polish with an up and down motion.

• Don’t worry about a little blood. “Bleeding means the gums are inflamed because plaque has built up and needs to be cleaned away. Don’t let that deter you,” Hewlett advises. Bleeding after a few days, however, could be a sign of periodontal disease. Talk to your dentist.

• Get a floss holder. If you lack the hand dexterity to floss, try soft wooden plaque removers, which look similar to toothpicks, or a two-pronged plastic floss holder. Both allow you to clean between teeth with one hand.

As you get better at flossing, you’ll find that it takes you less and less time to do it, you’ll feel better, and your dentist will spend more time talking about how great your smile is, as opposed to subjecting you to yet another lecture.

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The Best Dentist-Approved Toothpastes

Three packages of toothpasteThe toothpaste aisle always seems to have something new in it, but toothpaste that only clean your teeth are SO old news.

“Companies are trying to cash in on the buzz about how good oral hygiene can help you fend off a host of health problems, including heart disease,” says Kenneth Young, D.D.S., a private-practice dentist in New York. “This has led to increasing specialization in toothpaste.”

So out of all the staggering selections out there, which ones do the dentists recommend the most?

For Total Mouth Health:

Only one brand, Crest Pro-Health ($4), is accepted by the American Dental Association in six categories. It whitens, reduces sensitivity, and helps prevent cavities, gingivitis, plaque, and bad breath. One caveat: Its stannous fluoride can cause tooth staining. If you notice brown spots, alert your dentist, who can easily remove them.

For Whiter Teeth:

Most whiteners are not powerful enough. For real results, pick a product with hydrogen peroxide, such as Supersmile Professional Whitening System ($36, supersmile.com). Bonus: Two tubes keep the toothpaste separate from the whitening gel, the best way to maintain bleaching power, according to Japanese research.

For Sensitive Teeth:

Most sensitivity formulas contain 5 percent potassium nitrate, which blocks receptors that translate hot and cold signals into pain. We like Sensoclyne ProNamel iso-active ($5) because it’s also pH balanced to help prevent acid erosion. To maximize the pain blocking, spit after brushing, but then wait 20 minutes before rinsing.

For Gum Health:

The best way to kill the germs that cause gum disease is to use a toothpaste with the antimicrobial triclosan, such as Colgate Total ($4.50). In a University at Buffalo study, it outgunned a stannous fluoride product. Just brush at a 45-degree angle, which helps the bristles reach up under your gum line, where bacteria burrow.

For Natural Protection:

Go natural to avoid artificial flavors and colors, but make sure the brand you choose has cavity-fighting fluoride. The Natural Dentist Anticavity ($6) has fluoride as well as xylitol (which makes plaque less sticky) and aloe vera (an inflammation fighter). Plus, it’s free of sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent that may cause canker sores.