Nearly every visit to the dentist’s office ends with the same report for every client; you need to floss more. No matter how many times you tell yourself you’re going to be better about it you always end up leaving that small little roll of string fall to the wayside and get lost in a routine of strictly brushing. As days turn to weeks and sometimes months, you may begin to notice the floss peeking out from the medicine cabinet and finally one day decide to tackle the task of the dentist’s wishes and floss. However that first floss back can sometimes be a tricky and scary one.
Some of the initial signifiers that you need to floss are either bits of food that you can feel trapped between teeth or excessive bad breath. When food and particles get stuck in your gums and between your teeth they will begin to slowly break down and form odor as they rot and plaque forms. The more obvious signal that your body sends is tender and sore gums, usually red and inflamed. When these signs become so prevalent you will begin to wonder how you can change the effects and reach for your floss. Make sure to brace yourself, getting the rust off the hinges (in this case your gums) can be a bit rough.
When your gums are inflamed they are usually swelling with a bit more blood than usual as your body’s natural response to combat an invader, otherwise known as that little sliver of steak you got crammed between your molars. When you disrupt this process your body is going through it will begin to react to the abrasiveness of the floss by bleed a lot. This is because your gums are relieved that help is finally on the way and they’re not fighting an uphill battle alone. Although blood when flossing can mean that you’re finally cleaning up around your teeth it is not always the best thing. In fact there is such thing as too much bleeding or irritation when flossing.
Sometimes patient’s begin to floss only to realize it hurts a lot more than they remember and the bleeding seems to never end. The pain is almost so intense that you may stop flossing and it could even hurt to rinse. This could be a sign of a serious gum disease that should in fact be treated by your oral hygienist and is beyond the control of what you can aid at your home. You could have a serious case of gingivitis or a strong bacterial buildup that is breaking down your gums and could spread to your enamel.
Flossing may seem like it’s getting the job done better when you’re using fast and strong sweeps through the teeth, but actually this is just causing more pain and not doing as much work as you could be doing. Make sure to be gentle and pull slowly back and forth until you feel you have sweeped over all the small areas between two teeth, then move on. These gentle motions will clean up the bacteria and plaque growing without disturbing the integrity of the actual gum. Tiny tears and abrasions in between your teeth and on the surface of your gums can be very discomforting and in turn make it difficult to even brush.
Speaking of brushing, it is always important to brush after you floss. Flossing breaks and up and brings out all the unwanted mess that traps itself in between teeth, but it doesn’t necessarily pull it away. That is where brushing comes into place; the bristles will pick up the mess and pull them away while leaving the toothpaste as a cleaning agent to prevent future build up. Flossing and brushing go hand in hand, and regardless of whether your gums are bleeding or inflamed or not you should still be doing both daily. A little blood never hurt anyone, but a lot of buildup definitely can.
An odd fact about gum inflammation is that researchers and oral hygienists have discovered mouth breathing to be a major catalyst to discomforted gums. The more frequently the air passes over your gums, the more dried out they become and ‘weathered’ they can be thus causing serious issues with their health. Another issue with gum inflammation that can call for an increased amount of flossing is tobacco agents like cigarettes and dip. These can leave bacteria and tobacco related buildup up nestled into the gums and increase the risk of not only gum disease but gum and jaw cancer.
It is very hard to floss ‘too much’. At your dentists request, make sure you are maintaining your oral hygiene as best you can. A little discipline in the morning and at night can go a long way in regards to your smile and breath. Flossing can seem like a hassle and gross if blood or pain is present, but the alternative to not taking care of your teeth now is way worse. Next time you’re in your bathroom be sure to think twice before passing up that little pack of mint-thread your dentist sent you home with.
Zane Schwarzlose writes for Lifetime Smiles in Austin, Texas. Zane flosses every day.