Dental floss is made of 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. An alternative tool to achieve the same effect is the interdental brush.
The American Dental Association advises to floss thoroughly once or more per day. While they do not make a recommendation regarding the order of brushing and flossing, flossing prior to brushing allows for fluoride from the toothpaste to reach between the teeth. Overly vigorous or incorrect flossing can result in gum tissue damage. For proper flossing, the Association advises to curve the floss against the side of the tooth in a 'C' shape (making sure the floss does not snap into the gap), and then to wipe the tooth from under the gumline (very gently) to the tip two or three times, repeated on adjacent and subsequent teeth.
Flossing in combination with toothbrushing can prevent gum disease, halitosis, and dental caries. Regular flossing is also linked to reduced incidence of heart disease. Flossing is correlated with greater longevity, potentially as a result of the prevention of gum inflammation.
Even when they have gum disease, many people don't bother to brush or floss properly. A new review suggests there is limited evidence that using behavior management approaches will help dentists convince patients to take better care of their teeth and gums.
British reviewers found a handful of studies that looked at approaches to behavior management in periodontal patients. These studies were far from perfect, making it difficult for the researchers come to any firm conclusions.
"We need better-quality trials assessing the effects of psychological interventions to improve people's oral health," said review co-author Dr. Peter Robinson, professor of dental public health at the University of Sheffield in England. "I also think we need broader research on the benefits of the application of psychological theory to dentistry, as I believe it has a great deal to offer."
Even in these days of high-tech medicine, toothbrushing and flossing remain the keys to oral health: "Removing the plaque from teeth and gums every day with proper brushing and flossing is the most important step in helping to keep a person's teeth for a lifetime," said Dr. Preston Miller, president of the American Academy of Periodontology.