It's All About The Biofilm, Baby: Why It's Vital To Floss

Only floss the ones you want to keep.
Biofilm, be gone.
Biofilm, be gone.

We all know we're meant to floss, but honestly, who has the time? It's so fiddly and boring and if you're brushing your teeth anyway... is it really that important?

Short answer: yes.

"Flossing basically does two things. It cleans out any food debris -- that's what you see -- and it removes biofilm," Dr Christopher Ho, principal dentist at CARE Dentistry told The Huffington Post Australia. "Biofilm is like a sticky substance full of plaque that sits on your teeth.

"The analogy I give to patients is, when you brush your teeth and rinse your mouth and use mouth washes, it's a bit like washing your car, but you are really just spraying it with water.

"To actually get the biofilm off your teeth, you need the physical reaction of floss rubbing against your teeth. It's actually very important. We have a saying: 'only floss the ones you want to keep', so yes, I would definitely be recommending that you are flossing each and every tooth."

According to Ho, the main reason you want to get serious about flossing is to prevent tooth decay and gum disease, both of which are actually more common than you think.

"The major cause of tooth loss for people over the age of 45 is gum disease," Ho told HuffPost Australia.

"Symptoms of which include bleeding gums, bad breath, receding gums, spaces between your teeth... You might get sensitive teeth as well."

However, by the time these more serious symptoms kick in, you're actually too late to realistically do anything about them, which is why it's so important to start a regular flossing routine now.

"It's after years of not flossing and cleaning your teeth that you get these problems," Ho said. "It's not going to happen after a week of not flossing."

Print this pretty floss decoration out and stick it on your mirror. Whatever it takes...
Print this pretty floss decoration out and stick it on your mirror. Whatever it takes...

One fairly immediate sign you're not flossing enough is bleeding gums.

"Even after a few days of not flossing, you may notice you get bleeding gums. That is the number one sign of your gums being unhealthy," Ho said. "When your gums bleed, it's a bit like spraining your ankle and it gets all swollen.

"They way your body heals itself is always by inflammation, so if your gum is actually swollen, it means you have a mini infection.

"You really shouldn't get bleeding. It's not normal. It's not normal for your body to bleed in that way unless something is not quite right."

As for those who say, 'yeah but my gums bleed when I floss' -- nice try, but no cigar. What this means is a) your gums are indeed unhealthy and b) you actually need to floss more often.

"I often hear people say they have bleeding gums and therefore they shouldn't floss, whereas in actual fact it's the opposite," Ho said. "You should floss your teeth more when you get bleeding gums. People think they are hurting themselves., but when you get bleeding, you need to floss more.

"Once they get healthier, they won't get bleed anymore."

Okay, so this isn't actually how you floss. But ten points for trying.
Okay, so this isn't actually how you floss. But ten points for trying.

One exception to this rule is for pregnant women, who may find themselves with bleeding gums as a result of excessive hormones. However, this doesn't mean you're off the flossing hook.

"If you are pregnant, you might get exaggerated bleeding of the gums," Ho said. "Hormones give you an exaggerated response to plaque -- it's nothing to worry about. All it means is you have to clean the plaque off better than everyone else."

As for when you should floss, Dr Ho says there's no hard or fast rule, as long as you're doing it regularly (and by regularly, we mean daily).

"Flossing should be done once a day," Ho said. "People often ask when exactly they should do it, but it doesn't really matter, as long as you do it once a day.

"As for before or after you brush, once again it doesn't really matter, but most people tend to floss after they have brushed, so you have more of a chance getting fluoride [from the toothpaste] in those hard-to-reach areas you can access while flossing."

This guy gets it.
This guy gets it.

It's not just a matter of pulling the floss through the gaps between your teeth, either.

"The point of flossing is that you get the floss running against the tooth," Ho said. "When you pull the floss through, you slide it against one side of the tooth. It's a bit like a shoe shine, except you are moving back and forth and up and down against the tooth."

And if you're due for a dentist appointment and think flossing like mad prior to your appointment is going to pull the cotton wool over their eyes, you're all out of luck.

"You know how people floss their teeth before they come in and see us? We can tell because their gums are still puffy and swollen," Ho said. "As a dentist, we can absolutely tell."