Flossing, The Key to Good Tooth Health

Did you know that if you’re only brushing and never flossing, you’re leaving 30% of the tooth surface uncleaned? Here are some of our best tips and tricks on getting that last 30%.

Flossing is the key and the only way to effectively clean between two teeth that are in contact. Many parents think that because they see spaces between their child’s front teeth, they don’t need to floss, when in fact, this is not the case. Oftentimes, despite spacing in the front, the molars are in contact in the back. If you’re unsure, try flossing the molars to see if you feel resistance, or ask your hygienist at your child’s next cleaning.

Why is it important to floss baby teeth?

If you’re not flossing, your child is much more likely to get cavities in the spaces in between their teeth, especially the molars. Cavities between the molars can be diagnosed in their earliest stages with cavity detecting x-rays, called bitewings. Sometimes we may place them on a watch (meaning the cavities are only in the outer “enamel” layer of the tooth). The intent is that with regular flossing and the use of special fluoride-containing products (if indicated by your dentist), these early-stage cavities could potentially stay on watch until the tooth falls out naturally.

If your child is not flossing regularly at home, these early-stage cavities will often become larger and invade the second layer of the tooth, at which point they would need to be restored (filled). It is important to treat cavities on baby teeth for numerous reasons. Left untreated, they will become larger and could result in significant pain and abscess (infection). Your child’s baby teeth also save space for the permanent teeth that will come in later. Cavity-free baby teeth create a healthy environment for the permanent teeth to erupt into.

What type of floss do you recommend?
The best type of floss to use is traditional string floss. This is because it is most easily adaptable around the curved shape of the tooth, and can clean below the gumline. The next best type, if you’re unable or unwilling to use traditional floss, is the handled flossers. The theory on these is that they’re better than not flossing at all, and they’re a good “practice floss” for your child. However, they can be very difficult to adapt around the back teeth. The tightness of the floss piece makes it difficult to curve around the tooth’s shape, and the handle itself can make it difficult to access the teeth that are the farthest back. If your child is keen on the flossers, an excellent compromise would be to let your child floss their front teeth using the flossers, and for an adult to floss the back teeth using traditional string floss.

Do you have any tips for flossing at home?
The recommended frequency for flossing is once a day. Flossing at nighttime before bed is usually the easiest and by far the most popular time. It’s a great time of day so that you can “reset” your child’s mouth for the night, free of plaque and food remnants. An easy way and the best positioning for flossing is to have your child lay down. Have them lay on the floor, couch, or bed, with you by their head (similar to how the dentist is positioned!). Doing this will give you the easiest access to those hard-to-reach places, and the best control so that their head isn’t pulling away from you while you work. If you find it difficult to lay your child down, the next best position is to have them standing (if they are small) or sitting (if they are older), with you standing behind them. Position yourself so that their head is leaning against you so that you can get the most head control.

How can I get my child on board with flossing?
One of the major barriers with flossing kids’ teeth daily is getting your little one to comply — we get it! Try getting them excited, kids love to have a goal, even if it’s silly, so get creative and find what works.

Here are some fun ideas:
• Floss the dinosaurs out
• Floss the sugar bugs out
• Help your child think of things they ate that day and “find” it
• Floss so the dentist will be proud of you (and we will be!)
Let your little one have a turn first if they’d like, but make sure you help them after — especially the back teeth which are most often forgotten and are also most likely to get cavities.
Lastly, floss together! Make it your ritual to floss when they floss. Not only does this set an excellent example, but you’re taking care of your oral health too!

Happy flossing!