You know you should floss at least once a day to keep your smile healthy. But how much do you really know about this simple, effective tool? Take this quiz to test your flossing knowledge and know-how.
Textile and health care product companies that produce dental floss spin out and sell an estimated 3 million miles (4,828,032 kilometers) of floss each year. That's nearly enough to stretch from the Earth to the moon and back six times.
Floss is often made from nylon or other synthetic fibers. Many manufacturers wax these fibers, or coat them with Teflon or other nonstick coatings so the floss will slide between teeth and gums with less effort.
The first commercially produced floss was made from silk. Manufacturers continued to use silk for floss until the 1940s, when nylon and other synthetic fibers came into common use due to technological advances and the rationing of silk during World War II.
Dentist Levy Spear Parmly invented modern floss in the early 1800s, but reports suggest that Native Americans made floss from fibers of the yucca plant long before that time.
For people who find flossing uncomfortable or difficult to properly perform, dental picks and intradental cleaning brushes can provide some of flossing's benefits. These tools are often less effective and more expensive, though.
According to some estimates, regular preventive dental care (checkups and cleanings) can reduce overall dental care costs by as much as a factor of 10. And since oral health is linked to systemic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, dental care is an investment that can pay for itself many times over.
The American Dental Association conducts independent, scientifically rigorous tests to evaluate dental care products. Its seal of approval on a package of floss means that the ADA tested a sample of the floss and found that it did a satisfactory job of cleaning the teeth, and that it should be safe for typical consumers to use.
The ADA recommends using one 18-inch piece of floss during a cleaning session. Wrap the ends around your fingertips to gain solid control as you clean.
The ADA recommends flossing once a day, although some people find it easier to get into the habit of flossing every time they brush.
Floss frays as you move it between your teeth, and can collect bacteria. It can't be cleaned or repaired, so consider it a one-time-use product.
While gingivitis commonly appears as inflammation and bleeding in the gums, it isn't always painful. If you notice redness or bleeding when you brush and floss, but it doesn't hurt, you should still contact your dentist.
Plaque is formed when bacteria in the mouth digest sugars from food remnants on the teeth and gums. The bacteria produce plaque, a sticky, gel-like substance that can harden and become tartar.
While gingivitis is often not painful, and can be easily reversed with good oral care, it can lead to severe gum and tooth disease if left untreated.
Certain people may be more genetically predisposed to dental problems, but the biggest risk factor for dental problems comes from lack of access to good dental care.
The hormonal changes that take place in a pregnant woman's body can affect her entire system, including her susceptibility to tooth and gum problems.
Genetic traits such as softer-than-normal tooth enamel or a propensity for teeth to grow in crookedly can affect a person's oral health.
Studies have shown that people with poor oral health are at a statistically higher risk of developing Type II diabetes. Research is still underway to determine how illness in the mouth can affect the endocrine system.
While the possible mechanisms (such as poor diet and overall health) that could tie heart disease to oral health are somewhat unclear, researchers have repeatedly found an apparent link between poor oral health and the possibility of heart disease.
Tartar is formed when plaque hardens on the teeth and gums. This hard substance builds up in layers, and can cause problems in the teeth and gums if left untreated.
While brushing and flossing can help prevent tartar from building up in the mouth, established tartar is best removed by a dental professional, who will scrape it off of the teeth and gums.