The thin red line and flossing

‘Without flossing, there would be much more gum disease and tooth decay. I am surprised that a recent study has reported that flossing is not effective. I floss my teeth once a day – I think it is irreplaceable as a way to stop bacteria forming a stable colony in the mouth which leads to the formation of calculus (tartar), which is hardened calcified plaque.

I don’t think the latest study should be the last word. In my experience, flossing is an important part of maintaining oral hygiene, even if there is not yet firm evidence.

There is no better way to remove the bacteria that build up between the teeth. Once you get the hang of the technique, it is pretty quick. I can floss all my teeth in around 30 seconds.

I use an electric toothbrush which is much better at removing plaque than a manual brush, even if you have a very good technique. Electric brushes never get tired, and they brush at very high speed which loosens the plaque on the enamel. I might brush my teeth three times to include an extra brush before lunch. I always brush my teeth before a meal, not after, when the enamel is softer and more prone to damage.

I avoid whitening toothpastes because many contain ingredients that act like scourers. The daily stains are removed along with some healthy enamel which in the long term actually reveals the natural yellow colour of the underlying dentine. Most whitening toothpastes don’t contain bleaching agents, as you might expect. They would need to contain enough hydrogen peroxide to burn the inside of the mouth if they were going to have an effect on teeth during a two minute brushing session.

I love coffee but I am relaxed about staining.  I know that my hygienist will be able to remove the discoloration on one of my regular visits. The staining can easily be removed by scaling (removing the hardened discoloured layer and buffing ). I’ll have the odd fizzy drink, but less than one a week because of the link between these drinks and tooth decay. I will give my children the odd snack like dried fruit, but not too often because snacks which stick to teeth can cause decay.’

Dr Justin Toal

Dr Justin Toal is a private dentist practising in Haslemere in Surrey. He qualified in Glasgow and has special interest in dental health and aesthetics.

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