At forty one years of age, I found myself in a dentist's
office recently for a cleaning; for the first time in all those years,
I was actually taught how to floss my teeth!
I have a very bad flossing history. About as often as I noticed that half
of my 145Sm was missing,
the guilt would hit me and I would give it a try again. I'd contort
my body this way and that for a few minutes, looking like a raccoon
trying to get a bee out of its mouth, and give up after a few minutes,
having gained a bit of a sore jaw while instilling not an iota of fear
in the bacteria chortling behind my periodontal ramparts. Not only was
it difficult to get the string positioned, but (as I found out last week)
my teeth are packed together a bit tighter than normal.
But thanks to the tutelage of a very good dental technician,
I am now a bona fide twice-a-day flosser.
So here's the drill:
- Cut off a length of floss at least two feet (60 cm) long
-- maybe three. Mistake number one that I'd always made was to use just
two inches or so.
- Wind one end around the middle finger of your left hand two or three
times, overlapping the beginning so that it's tight and doesn't
- Similarly, wind the other end around the middle finger of your
right hand, but don't stop: keep going until the entire
length (minus about two inches) is wrapped around the right finger.
- Hold your hands vertically in front of you and bend your middle,
ring, and pinky fingers into your palm (as though you're about
to say Bang! Bang!). Now, rotate your wrists away
from you, causing your extended index fingers to pass under the
string and end up pointing at the middle of your chest and keeping
a half inch of string taut between the fingertips. This is the basic
position for flossing one inter-dental space.
- Insert both index fingers into your mouth, one in front and one
behind the target. (When you get back past the bicuspids,
it can be easier to use the thumb rather than the index finger on
the anterior side.) Pull the string down between the teeth.
This is where you find that that there's a good reason they make
waxed floss. Mistake number two that I'd always made was
to use unwaxed (I tend to a minimalist philosophy).
- Move your fingers along the line of teeth in one direction, so that
the string, rather than just being between them, is wrapped around
the edge of the tooth, i.e., as much as possible, the string is
pressed up against the front and back of the tooth. Now move the
string up and down the surface, all the way down to the gum line.
Don't worry about hitting the gum -- the edge of it is likely
not sealed to the tooth, and it doesn't hurt to get between them.
- Move your fingers the other way and repeat, doing the tooth on the
other side of the gap.
- Pull the string up out of the teeth and remove your fingers from
your mouth and twirl your right middle finger to allow one loop
of floss to unwind, and take up the slack with your left middle
finger. You now have a clean area of string to use for the next
inter-dental gap. Unless you've done them all, target the next
one and continue from step 5. Otherwise, toss the string into the
trash and rinse your mouth.
When you begin flossing after having slacked off for a while, you'll probably notice that your gums bleed. It won't be pouring out of your mouth sufficiently to irrigate your petunias, you'll just notice it when you spit. Unless you're slicing your gums open by drawing the string across them in a sawing motion, this is nothing to worry about, and will cease with regular practice.
Apart from the waxed/unwaxed question, the brand of dental floss that
you buy (even if you're from West Virginia, you shouldn't use twine)
makes a difference. (This discussion may be US-centric.) The "name"
brands are Glide and some of the big toothpaste
companies like Colgate. It may be that many people use Glide because
the sample that they brought home from the dentist's office was that
brand. Bzzzzzzt. The dentist gives you that because Glide is the only
company that gives them free professional samples.
Four out of five dentists surveyed preferred
another brand: Hi-Tech. The amazing thing is that
this is generally the least expensive of the array of choices
you'll see on the shelf; in fact, you may not see it at all, because
the house brand (bearing the name of the grocery or drugstore chain)
may well be Hi-Tech under the covers. This brand is slipperier, and
when rubbed on the teeth, the cord unravels into several filaments
which give you more cleaning action.
 The radioactive half-life of Samarium-145 is 340 days.
 I know of no actual survey; this is what my dentist told me.