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Having Trouble Flossing? You Have Choices

Are you one of those people who doesn’t floss because you find it awkward to maneuver the floss between your teeth? If so, a number of products can help you get the job done.

“There’s no debate: You must floss,” said Richard H. Price, D.M.D., a consumer spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “You cannot just rely on brushing your teeth.”

To prevent decay and periodontal (gum) disease, you must remove plaque, the sticky, naturally occurring layer of bacteria that builds up on all surfaces of your teeth. Dental floss gets between your teeth, where toothbrush bristles cannot reach, and gets rid of plaque between the teeth and underneath the gum line. So in addition to brushing your teeth gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line, it’s vital to floss at least once a day to remove plaque.

If you have trouble flossing with your fingers, ask your dentist or hygienist for advice on how to do it best. You may want to consider these options:

Different dental floss. You may find that floss coated with wax slides more easily between your teeth than uncoated floss. If you have bridge work, you may prefer wide floss, or dental tape.

Floss holders. Shaped like a hacksaw or slingshot, these are good for people with limited dexterity or those who are just learning how to floss.

Other alternatives include:

Interproximalbrushes. Available in manual and power forms, these tiny brushes clean plaque between teeth.

Interdental cleaners. These small picks can remove plaque, but they cannot reach between very tight teeth.

Power irrigators. Known as water picks, they aren’t a substitute for brushing and flossing because they do not remove the sticky bacterial plaque, but they can help remove food particles from between teeth and around braces.

Mouthwashes. Antimicrobial mouth rinses can reduce plaque and gingivitis. Using a mouthwash with fluoride along with fluoride toothpaste provides extra protection against tooth decay compared to using fluoride toothpaste alone.

“Brushing Your Teeth.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/brushing-your-teeth.aspx. Accessed 2013.

“Flossing.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/flossing.aspx. Accessed 2013.

“Should I Floss?” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry. January 2012. www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/. Accessed 2013.

“Using Mouthrinse Reduces Plaque and Gingivitis More Than Toothbrushing Alone.” Academy of General Dentistry, February 13, 2013. www.agd.org/media/128179/agd_press_release_2_19_13.pdf. Accessed 2013.

“Buying Oral Care Products.” American Dental Association. November 2002. www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_20.pdf. Accessed 2013.

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