January 24, 2021
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Only floss the teeth you want to keep

By: George Malkemus
July 3, 2020

‘The Boss of Floss’ is printed on a tee shirt that I wear with humorous pride.  Another tee shirt I wear has a shark flossing his teeth saying ‘Got Floss?’

Why floss?

Flossing is important for gum and tooth health because it removes food debris and plaque from the gum pockets between the teeth.  It is also falls right behind duct tape for temporary repairs, a very universal product.   Just yesterday in the office, I used floss to tie a computer connection that kept disconnecting.

Wikipedia’s Internet site describes dental floss as ‘either a bundle of thin nylon filaments or a plastic (teflon or polyethylene) ribbon used to remove food and dental plaque from teeth. The floss is gently inserted between the teeth and scraped along the teeth sides, especially close to the gums. Dental floss may be flavored or unflavored and waxed or unwaxed.’

 Both brushing and flossing are important in controlling decay and gum disease. There are two types of cavities, brushing cavities and flossing cavities. Flossing cavities are decay that begins between the teeth and can only be controlled with flossing. Brushing cavities occur in the grooves and pits on the top and sides of the teeth, where the bristles of the brush can reach.  

Flossing and brushing also keep the gums healthy by keeping the root surface of the tooth smooth and by preventing plaque build up.  A study of 50 sets of identical twins, with one twin only brushing and the other brushing and flossing showed a 42 percent increase in overall tooth and gum health for the flossers.

Flossing trick                                                       

A good way to remove fibrous food, like meat, carrot, celery, or popcorn kernels, that gets stuck between the teeth, is making a knot in the floss and pulling the floss knot through sideways and out.  Often the up and down method of flossing will not remove the jammed food, but the knotted floss trick will.  I frequently use this method in the office for removing wedged debris, most often popcorn kernels, on a patient with a painful gum abscess.  

Who flosses?

Flossing is important, but so few get in the healthy habit.  Nearly all Americans brush their teeth. However, The American Dental Association states that only about 12 percent of Americans floss daily, 39 percent floss less than daily, number of flossers is actually even lower.   Like all new techniques, learning to floss is challenging in the beginning.  It takes repetition and perseverance. Flossing does become easier with time, the fingers become more dexterous and the spaces between the teeth become more open as the teeth spread from flossing.  Once it becomes a habit, you don’t feel comfortable unless you floss!

Old time flossers

It might sound incredible but flossing isn't a new technique. Archaeologists found evidence that Neanderthals who lived over 63,000 years ago flossed their teeth. Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans, is credited with inventing the first form of dental floss in the modern era. In 1815, he began recommending that people clean their teeth with silk floss.  In 1898, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation received the first patent for silk dental floss. In 1918, the first literary mention of flossing was found in James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses. The adoption of floss was poor before World War II. It was around this time, however, that 

Dr. Charles C. Bass developed nylon floss. Nylon floss was better than silk because of its greater abrasion resistance and elasticity.

Choices of floss

Modern technology has improved on an ancient design. Today, you can choose from floss string or tape, super floss, floss picks, electric flossers, interdental brushes, floss threaders and oral irrigators.  You can choose between waxed or unwaxed, flavored or unflavored, and regular or tape types. In general, waxed floss slides between the teeth easier than unwaxed floss so it is a good selection for beginning flossers. Flavored floss leaves a fresh taste in the mouth and is especially nice for those times when brushing or rinsing is not possible. Tape floss is thicker than regular floss and is stronger and good for buffing the teeth. 

The next time you are in your favorite store or pharmacy, check out the flossing options. Also ask your hygienist which flossing product might be suitable for you. Your hygienist can also demonstrate regular and alternate flossing technique.  Experiment with flossing products until you find the one that best suits your needs; then make a pact with yourself to floss—regularly. 

Non-flossing options

If you are unable to get into the habit of flossing or physically unable to floss, then it is vital you brush well, preferably with an electric toothbrush and use other aids like toothpicks or a water pick. Plus, if you are not flossing, then it is even more important that you get frequent dental cleanings and dental examinations.

Electric flossers, also called air flossers, are a good option for non-flossers.  They are easier to use than regular flossing and shoot micro droplets of water (or mouthwash) between teeth with a burst of pressurized air to dislodge and remove inter-proximal plaque biofilm.  

Recently, my office and myself personally, have had great success with TePe brushes.  TePe brushes are small brushes that clean between the teeth with amazing success. With both straight and angled holding options and coming in 10 sizes from small to large, TePe brushes allow for individual differences.  Depending on my patient’s space between their teeth along their gums, a certain size that has a specific color is recommended by my hygienist Laura.  I have seen dramatic improvement in the oral hygiene of patients using TePe brushes, who have difficulty brushing and flossing.   TePe brushes can be purchased in my office or over the Internet. 

Healthy habits 

Early on in my life, I realized we are creatures of habit, and so I made a conscious decision to establish healthy habits, such as, healthy eating, exercise and flossing.  Healthy eating is still my biggest weakness and a constant challenge, especially eating smaller portions of delicious food.  I now try to slowly savor each bite.  I also revel in the sensation of motion with exercise.  And I enjoy the meditative repetition and sensation of flossing, as well as the pleasure of a clean mouth.  




George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at . Like us on Facebook!