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Your Flossing Questions, Answered...
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|Dr Chip Tartaroff, DDF|
|What's Up With the Tooth Fairy?
Dear Dr. Tartaroff,
We have some important questions about dental floss and many important people in the dental and tooth world.
- What is the association between the Flossing Council and the Tooth Fairy? Is she an employee, consultant or board member?
- We often get coins from the tooth fairy during the night we lose a tooth. Why dont we receive dental floss? Or at least dental floss coupons?
- The tooth fairy works very hard every night of the year. Or does she get a day off on Christmas and Christmas Eve. My bother lost a tooth on Christmas Even and never got coins. Mom and dad said to wait a day. What about Easter and other holidays?
Please answer our important questions.
A few students at Nottingham Elementary,
Dear NE Students,
Thank you for your interesting questions about the Tooth Fairy.
Allow me to briefly summarize your questions:
The Tooth Fairy who is she, who does she work for and when does she work?
The Tooth Fairy is a legend in the dental care industry a totally independent agent. In some countries, like France, the Tooth Fairy is thought to be a mouse that turns into a Fairy to do her work. Here in the US, she doesnt bother with the mouse stuff very often, but, being a Fairy, she certainly could use it, if she needed to hide.
The Tooth Fairy typically leaves money for each tooth she collects, but its not clear where the Tooth Fairy gets her money. We suspect she inherited it from a family of dentists. In 2009, theyll be a new movie called Tooth Fairy starring Dwayne Johnson, The Rock. Perhaps her agent got her some money from the movie's producers for using her name.
The Flossing Council would love to work with the Tooth Fairy, but being independent as she is, thats not easy to do! You ask about when she works. Thats something else that comes with independent agents like the Tooth Fairy they get to set their own hours and their schedule. Sort of like when you call a plumber or the telephone company you just have to wait.
Your thought on the Tooth Fairy leaving dental floss is great! Were going to work on that one! Perhaps the Tooth Fairy could leave a little package, holding some dental floss (and some cash). We may have some of those little packages printed up, so the Tooth Fairy can leave them for little girls and boys who lost a tooth.
Thanks very much for writing! Good luck with the Tooth Fairy and your New Teeth!
|One Type of Floss is Enough!
Dear Dr. Tartaroff,
I have a problem! I like to floss, but my teeth are rather tight, so I use a PTFE* (monofilament) floss most of the time. Ive had a couple of annoying incidents when a polyfilament floss has shredded between my teeth and left me struggling to clear it out.
My problem is that I do have two big spaces in between certain teeth and the monofilament floss doesnt work very well at getting those spaces clean.
Do I have to become a two floss guy monofilament for most teeth and a special followup with a bulkier floss?
Mixed Space Guy
If its any consolation to you, youre not alone with your problem. Personally, I have so much space between my teeth I sometimes look longingly at the ropes that are used to tie up ships. But many people have the tightly spaced teeth you describe that can only fit the slippery and durable monofilament flosses between most of them, but they also have one or more bigger gaps that dont get cleared with a PTFE floss.
The best flossing answer I know for your problem was shared with me by an engineer, Taber MacCallum (who is also noted as one of the eight people who lived in the Biosphere for 2 years, between 1991 and 1993).
Taber suggests tying a knot in the PTFE floss.
For your tight teeth you use the unknotted segment, and then pull the knotted floss through the bigger spaces to clean them out. Taber also pointed out another advantage of the knotted PTFE floss - it also works for those teeth that are close together but have a big food trap gap near their base. The PTFE floss can get between the teeth and the knot clears out the open area that can hold some stubborn food debris.
I think Taber has come up great solution for the mix spaced people like you!
Please try it out and send me any additional comments you might have on how it works.
Best of Flossing!
PS: PTFE stands for Polytetrafluoroethylene (aka Teflon; Gore-tex; Tyvek).
|How many people floss regularly?
In trying to convince my 20 year old son to floss everyday rather than perhaps weekly he stated that I am 1 in 100 who try to floss daily. I told him I think the percentage is much higher but I'm looking for some statistics or surveys to support my case. Can you provide any assistance? Thanks for any help you can offer.
Im not sure your efforts to promote flossing by your son requires numbers as much as some suggestions about how to get your son to enjoy flossing.
First, have you ever noticed how most people react to statistics? - If the statistics agree with what the person already thinks, the numbers are fine and noteworthy. If the statistics introduce conflicting evidence, then the statistics are suspect and ridiculed.
Now regarding the number of people who floss regularly, even if we limit our question only to the USA, Im not sure how wed get good numbers and Id be prepared to question any that were being circulated.
Heres part of my reason for being a doubter: Have you heard about the difficulty researchers have had getting medical personnel to report how often they wash their hands? Studies have shown that doctors and others who deal with the sick dont wash their hands nearly as often as they should but being busy and well intentioned, they report a lot more washing than they actually do.
So, when people report flossing, how do we know they actually flossed and arent just saying what their dentists and loved ones might like to hear?
To me, your note suggests your son doesnt like to floss, and that may be the most useful place to focus your attention. If your son liked to floss, hed be proud of having such an exceptional Dad imagine how hed react if you were one of the top 1% of home run hitters that would be no problem. But flossing seems to be a negative thing for him.
Why do some people like flossing so much more than others? If you have teeth spaced widely enough to catch chunks of food, flossing feels great, because it can quickly clear all the big stuff between teeth. Thats an immediate winner for some people. But all those who have tight teeth dont catch nearly as many mega particles of food and they have a tough time even getting floss between their teeth.
Ok, regarding your son - Have you started him with a non-shredding monofilament floss? (Big brand examples are Colgate Total and Creast/Glide, but less costly house brands are also available.) As I note elsewhere, the only thing worse than food stuck between your teeth is floss stuck between your teeth.
How can he tell if hes flossing enough? - Heres a concrete test he can use:
When he flosses, does he mobilize smelly gunk?
Anyone who regularly finds debris that could be called a Pearl de la Sewer when they floss, needs to floss more often. That smelly stuff between your teeth can cause bad breath (a real relationship killer), gum disease, and promote decay. My experience suggests that with regular flossing (once a day; maybe more after meals with flossogens like chicken and corn), the amount of smelly debris can be fully controlled.
When your son can floss without discomfort and he appreciates how regular flossing can help his mouth and even his relationships, hell floss as often as needed and thats really a goal for all of us.
Good luck with your efforts!
Flossing Cartoons from
The New Yorker:
Thanks Dan, Libby, David, Bernie& Eleanora!
(To buy a print, click the cartoon.)
|Too Much Flossing?
Dear Dr. Tartaroff,
Flossing is good. Sometimes it is too good. I was soon out of dental school, and began to practice (literally) with my father who was a dentist in Farmingdale, Long Island, NY. One of my first patients was a young man, early 20s who had beautiful teeth, nary a cavity, but, strangely, all the gum tissue between his teeth, the gingival papillae, were "punched out", gone, depressed. Yet, his gingival tissue was pink, firm and healthy. I noted this to him and asked if he was aware of the condition. He replied, "Oh yes, you see, I was told by my former dentist that I should use dental floss because it prevented cavities. So, I figured if a little floss was good, a lot was better. So, you see, I tie knots in the floss and pull it through to make sure I get the teeth good and clean."
I looked him straight in the eye and said, "My advice to you, young man (we were probably the same age) is to throw out your floss, never use it again; but if you do use it, don't tie any knots, just put it through the contact, and for heaven's sake, don't saw, just move it up and down against the fronts and backs of the teeth. You're one of those unique humans who've never had a cavity. You're doing yourself more harm than good."
My concern was that with his literal compulsion to follow the good doctor's advice, even if he didn't tie knots, he'd probably use a sawing motion that might wear grooves on the proximal surfaces. Since he was, in those days, uniquely caries-free, flossing was, in his case, doing more harm than good.
Heres my question: Do you worry that your advice might make some people floss too much?
Jay W. Friedman, DDS, MPH
Los Angeles, CA
Dear Jay Friedman,
Thanks for sharing such an important story and your advice!
It is troubling that too much of anything can do harm and of course that includes flossing.
We recently posted a little jingle for National Flossing Day that had Smiley, the Muppet, flossing in a way that should only be done if you have a head made out of a sock!
For most of the world, the absence of flossing seems to be a major problem, but for those of us who floss, we can do our teeth damage if we floss too frequently especially if we saw back and forth along the edges of teeth with floss.
It may be useful to keep in mind a news story from a few years ago about a prisoner who used floss and toothpaste to saw through the bars of his cell and escape. The power of friction and a mild abrasive can cut through many things, and certainly the thin layer of enamel on the outside of teeth.
Perhaps a way to keep flossing in perspective would be to consider that eroding teeth and harming your gums is not a path to Peace of Mouth.
Thanks again for your letter Jay!
PS. Jay, I greatly enjoyed your recent article on the needless extraction of wisdom teeth!* (To download a copy click here.)
*"The Prophylactic Extraction of Third Molars: A Public Health Hazard. American Journal of Public Health 97:1554-59, 2007.
Only floss like this if your head is a sock!
click here for the video
Youngest Age to Start Flossing?
Dear Dr. T,
Hello my name is Scott Wilson from hervey bay Qld Australia. Any way to the point - I have a friend with an 8 year old. We had a conversation about flossing and she stated that most dentists that she has seen told her that if her child was to floss now or even younger it would put gapes in-between the teeth and damage the gums. I stated she is talking from her back side. Can you clarify this for me please?
I cant verify where your friend is talking from, but regarding the earliest age to floss, theres a lot of opinion that children can start flossing much younger than age 8.
The venerable American Dental Association (ADA) - which will never be classified as a radical group - states on its web site and in its educational material, that parents should start flossing their childrens teeth as soon as the child has two teeth that touch.
Thats a lot younger than age 8, which by itself doesnt seem like a problem to me. But I do think there are several important matters to keep in mind with children and floss:
- Use a non-shredding (monofilament) floss! - Dont afflict a child with shredded floss stuck between teeth.
- Dont making flossing a painful experience! Start by making it more like a simple game flossing one tooth and making it fun will be much more productive than waging a battle over a thorough flossing.
(The ADA has a fun flossing demonstration for children that involves the kids using the fingers as symbolic teeth, and yarn to represent floss.)
There is some debate about when children can floss on their own. Ages of 8 to 10 are mentioned in some articles, but I wouldnt be surprised that there are quite a few flossing prodigies out there who can handle floss by themselves at much earlier ages (Parents: Send us pictures of your child flossing and well post them here!).
Concerns about over-flossing (and brushing) should be kept in mind, but theyre not likely to be a problem for many children. Flossing once a day is a healthy rate, which will do a lot of good and little harm. Flossing, like brushing, should also be done after eating certain foods (flossigens) that are particularly likely to get stuck between teeth - whenever a parent or a child is bothered by such debris.
Like adults, some children are not going to enjoy or even want to deal with flossing. Children and teens tend to have more tooth decay than adults. It probably has a lot to do with live and learn.
Of course, children are likely to mimic their parents if they see you flossing regularly, theres a good chance theyll be interested in flossing too. Sometimes, however, all you can do is offer and wait. Teaching kids to floss is one more of the many challenges of parenting.
Chip T., DDF.
PS: We asked our friends at www.Brownielocks.com - a fun kid's website - for comments about kids and flossing. Here are some additional tips:
Start with the two front teeth, so you don't have to reach inside the child's mouth. Some children fear choking, and the simpliest approach will avoid this problem.
There are several flossing devices around that promise to make flossing easier, but watch out, some have terrible, easy shredding floss in them!
It's up to each parent to decide when their children should floss - probably the sooner the better.
PPS: Here's a picture of a 15 month old, who insisted on flossing her only two teeth, when she saw her Dad flossing.
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