From How Stuff Works Health
BY MATT CUNNINGHAM
Every time you visit the dentist for a checkup, there’s one question you’re almost certain to hear: “Have you been flossing regularly?” For a lot of patients, the answer isn’t always yes. Many people make a point of brushing their teeth twice a day, as the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends, but fewer people follow the recommendation to floss at least once a day [source: ADA].
What many of these non-flossers don’t realize is that this step plays an important role in dental health. 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 [source: ADA].
An increasing body of evidence suggests that proper dental care — including regular flossing — can do more than keep your smile pretty and healthy. A healthy mouth can also help prevent much more serious diseases, some of which can be life threatening [source: CDC]. But if you’re still not convinced that you should add flossing to your daily routine, we’ve got five examples to make the case that flossing is extremely important.
If you’re like a lot of people, your first response to your dentist’s flossing recommendation may be “I brush my teeth, so I’m fine.” While brushing your teeth twice a day will go a long way toward maintaining oral health, you’re not getting the optimal cleaning if you leave the floss unused in the back of your medicine cabinet.
A toothbrush works by physically removing plaque — a sticky, bacteria-laden film — from your teeth with its soft bristles. Toothpaste enhances the effect of the toothbrush, and kinds that contain fluoride help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth. But brushing has one big drawback: A toothbrush’s bristles can’t adequately clean between the teeth or under the gums [source: ADA].
That’s where floss comes in. It’s a tool specifically made to remove plaque from the tight spaces between the teeth and under the gums. The ADA 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. Think of floss and a toothbrush as a detail paintbrush and paint roller, respectively. You could paint your living room walls with just one of the tools, but using them together will provide a much more satisfactory result [source: ADA].
What About Mouthwash?
Brushing and flossing get more buzz in discussions of oral care, but an ADA-approved antimicrobial mouthwash can also offer powerful protection for your mouth. Like toothpaste, mouthwash helps kill the bacteria that create plaque. It can get into the tight spaces between the teeth and gums, especially after flossing to clean plaque and food particles from those areas. While it can’t physically scrub the teeth and gums like brushing or flossing, mouthwash that contains fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel, helping prevent cavities.
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