Mention oral healthcare and what usually comes to mind are things like toothbrushes with super soft, zigzag bristles, fluoride toothpaste and antiseptic mouthwash. Unfortunately, the most commonly neglected part _ dental floss _ is actually key to good oral health.
"Most people overlook the importance of dental floss. They adhere to the misconception that brushing the teeth is already enough," said dentist Dr Chaiwat Suechanyapong.
But the truth is that brushing, no matter how properly it is carried out, is inadequate. Dr Chaiwat said human teeth are like many white, or sometimes yellowish, boxes placed next to one another and brushing can only clean the front and the back of those boxes, leaving the "interdental" area between teeth untouched and full of food particles.
Dental floss, added Dr Chaiwat, is the only weapon that can effectively battle the accumulation of food particles in the interdental areas. But the lack of promotion is one of the factors that leads to people's misunderstanding and lack of attention to the importance of the thin white filament.
"Media plays a significant role with regard to people's perception towards dental floss as part of oral healthcare," Dr Chaiwat commented. "On television, we only see toothbrush and mouthwash commercials. A lot of people, consequently, have no knowledge about dental floss when in fact it is a really important oral care tool."
Failure to regularly use dental floss will cause the formation of plaque _ a thin film, usually pale yellow, that develops naturally on the tooth surface. Bacteria that comes from food is responsible for the formation of plaque. In the very beginning, bacteria will only lead to soft plaque.
But if left unattended for more than 72 hours, soft plaque will turn into sticky plague, which will then attach itself to calcium in the saliva and harden. At this stage, a toothbrush will no longer be able to remove it.
"Plaque is the major cause of gum diseases and mouth odour," noted Dr Chaiwat. Plaque is not only responsible for oral diseases, but other ailments too. More than 400 types of bacteria are found in plaque, many of which are responsible for serious diseases.
"Some certain types of bacteria from plaque are associated with heart diseases. This is the reason why patients who suffer some types of heart defects, such as those diagnosed as having valvular heart diseases or rheumatic fever, are normally recommended to take certain types of medications before visiting a dentist in order to prevent heart infection that might be caused by bacteria in the mouth," explained the dentist.
Plaque has also been linked to the development of chronic kidney diseases and diabetes, especially among those prone to getting easily infected. According to Dr Chaiwat, those who refrain from using dental floss for quite a while are found to have more bacteria in their blood than people who regularly floss.
There was also an extra risk for patients on steroids or immunosuppressive drugs. And this increases their chances of getting bacterial infection and falling victim to diseases.
To prevent the aforementioned plaque-causing diseases, Dr Chaiwat recommended the regular use of dental floss. What type of floss you opt for _ be it normal, waxed, dental tape or ultra-thick floss _ does not necessarily matter. These various types of floss actually make little difference so it is a matter of preference. When to floss, however, has been the subject of debate among dental professionals for many years.
Some say flossing should be done after brushing because if carried out before it might transport bacteria from food particles to the gum, increasing the risk of infection. Others argue flossing before brushing takes away food particles and enables fluoride from toothpaste to take better effect.
"Flossing before or after brushing your teeth does actually not make much difference," noted Dr Chaiwat. "It depends on what you think is convenient for you. Flossing no matter when is better than not doing it at all,"
A number of people decide not to use dental floss at all for fear that regular use will widen the gaps between their teeth.
However the truth is in fact the other way around.
"There is no way using dental floss regularly can widen the tooth gaps," remarked the dentist. "Dental floss is a thin thread that, when pushed between two teeth, will spread itself and become a very thin filament. Conversely, if you do not use it, food particles in the interdental areas can lead to frequent gum inflammation. In the end, this will cause receding gums and tooth gaps in the affected areas."
So when it comes to maintaining good oral health, dental floss is more than just equipment, said Dr Dr Chaiwat.
To him, dental floss is like an investment. And one good thing about this sort of investment is it yields high returns and helps lower the risk.
"When it comes to oral health, prevention is better than cure," concluded the specialist. "Dental floss not only helps prevent the deterioration of teeth, tooth decay, gum diseases and mouth odour.
"It can also act as a shield against many other life-threatening diseases. So just pay a little extra and put dental floss in your bathroom as part of your oral care. And this can probably make your visit to a dentist a friendlier one."
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan