Why should you floss your teeth once a day?

dental floss
You've probably heard about the Associated Press report that says there is no proven benefit to flossing.
Instead, dentists and hygienists recommend interdental cleaning once a day for optimal oral health.

In this article, we'll discuss the importance of cleaning the spaces between your teeth, how to properly introduce the daily use of dental floss into your oral hygiene routine, and other tools you can use to clean your interdental spaces.

Is brushing alone sufficient?

While the Associated Press has deemed flossing to be unnecessary, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) recommend it and advise daily flossing to prevent gum disease.

The tooth has 5 different surfaces. When you brush your teeth, you only reach 3 surfaces. The 2 remaining uncleaned sides are the interdental spaces.
So, brushing alone is not enough and the use of an additional tool is necessary to complete the work. It's even worse if you don't brush your teeth properly.

When we eat, food debris will get stuck in our mouths, especially in the spaces between our teeth. Brushing will clean a large part of the dental surfaces. The debris left between the teeth that brushing could not reach will continue to accumulate to form plaque.

Plaque is a soft deposit resulting from the association of certain bacteria. If not removed, dental plaque will harden into tartar, a darker and much harder deposit that can only be removed by your dentist.

Tartar will further promote the attachment of new bacteria and food debris increasing the risk of gum disease and cavities.

Even after a thorough cleaning of the teeth, it only takes a few hours for the plaque to build up again. That's why it's important to brush your teeth twice a day and clean between your teeth once a day.

What can happen if you don't floss your teeth?

effects of interdental plaque

Gum disease and cavities are mainly caused by bacteria. Certain factors such as stress, poor oral hygiene, a bad diet can unbalance our oral microbiome in favor of the bad bacteria. These will proliferate and cause infections, the most common are gingivitis and dental caries.

These diseases are most pronounced in the interdental spaces.

If you don't floss your teeth, you are providing the perfect conditions for the development of certain pathogenic bacteria.

A risk of interdental caries

The dental plaque accumulated between the teeth is rich in bacteria able to produce acid by fermenting sugars.

The acidity produced will destroy the minerals that make up the enamel and create cavities.
In addition, the increased acidity will eliminate the protective bacteria in the mouth, which will worsen the lesions.

Untreated cavities can progress to reach the deeper tissues of the tooth including the dentin and pulp.

Interdental floss helps to remove the dental plaque and prevent its formation, hence its importance in preventing cavities.

Gum disease

The interdental spaces are a niche for bacteria able to cause gum disease.

This bacterial accumulation irritates the gums and causes inflammation. This is called gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease that can affect up to 90% of adults.
Symptoms include gum irritation, red or swollen gums, and/or bleeding when brushing teeth.

The good news is that gingivitis can be reversed with good oral hygiene, which includes cleaning between your teeth every day.

If left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontitis, which is a more severe form of gum disease.

This will involve the spread of bacteria below the gum line and release toxins that will activate our immune system. The reactions triggered will lead to the destruction of the tissues surrounding the tooth, resulting in bone loss and gum recession. Untreated periodontitis will progress until the tooth is lost.

Bad breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, is also a consequence of plaque accumulation.
Poor dental hygiene is one of the main causes of bad breath. If you don't get rid of food debris and bacteria, especially between your teeth, the bacteria will break down some of the food residues, resulting in a bad odor.

How to properly introduce the use of dental floss into your oral hygiene routine?

daily dental care

There are different types of dental floss. Choosing the right one will make interdental cleaning much easier and more comfortable. The tool should fit comfortably in your interdental spaces - you should not force it, as this could damage your gums.

Types of dental floss include unwaxed floss, waxed floss, dental tape, polytetrafluorethylene floss (PTFE), and super flosses.

The most important thing is to do it every day. Whether you prefer to use an interdental brush, a flosser, a stick, a waterjet flosser or a combination of all of them, the important thing is to clean between your teeth once a day before regular brushing according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP).

Last but not least, interdental cleaning is not limited to the use of dental floss. There are different tools, the most appropriate one depends mostly on the morphological situation of the interdental spaces.

Here are 3 of the most commonly used interdental cleaning tools:

Dental floss

dental floss

Dental floss is used in the case of narrow spaces between teeth with healthy gums or in the case of crowded teeth.

Tooth sticks

tooth sticks indication

Used in case of slightly open interdental spaces. The sticks are easy to start with - they even massage your gums!

Interdental brushes

interdental brushes indication

They are indicated for plaque removal if the interdental spaces are open. Many people struggle to clean between their back teeth (the molars). If this is your case, flexible interdental brushes may be the right choice. They allow you to reach those difficult areas.

The effects of poor oral hygiene can extend beyond the mouth!

Over time, plaque can increase the risk of developing more serious health conditions. This is because the bacteria in plaque can reach different vital organs through the bloodstream and lead to complications such as cardiovascular disease or stroke. It can also worsen an existing condition, such as diabetes.

The better you take care of your oral health by brushing your teeth, cleaning between your teeth and visiting your dentist at least once a year, the better you protect your overall health.

  1. “New Study Suggests the Ideal Sequence for Removing Plaque.” American Academy Of Periodontology, https://www.perio.org/press-release/new-study-suggests-the-ideal-sequence-for-removing-plaque/.
  2. “Floss/Interdental Cleaners.” American Dental Association, https://www.ada.org/resources/research/science-and-research-institute/oral-health-topics/floss.
  3. Graves, R.C., Disney, J.A. and Stamm, J.W. (1989), Comparative Effectiveness of Flossing and Brushing in Reducing Interproximal Bleeding. Journal of Periodontology, 60: 243-247.