Following on from the international news reports last year that flossing is not necessary, should you still floss? And, if you are battling cancer, is it even a concern? Ivohealth’s Oral Hygiene Advisor, Dirna Grobbelaar, answer this question.
Side effects from cancer treatment
According to Dirna, it’s very common to develop sensitive gums and xerostomia (dry mouth) during cancer treatment. This makes it even more important to take extra care of the mouth, which includes cleaning in-between the teeth every day. Yes, that means you must floss.
Flossing, or interproximal cleaning, helps remove bacteria and micro-organisms that cause tooth decay and disease. Brushing alone cannot remove it all, particularly in-between the teeth. Each tooth has five surfaces and brushing can reach only three.
The other two surfaces are usually in close contact, allowing food debris and bacteria to get stuck and build-up, above and below the gums. If this is not removed properly it will irritate the gums – even more so if they are extra-sensitive during cancer treatment – eventually causing disease.
Although daily flossing or interdental cleaning is recommended, less than a third of South Africans floss on the recommended daily basis. Many people cite a lack of time, or find floss difficult to use.
During treatment, you may find you’re more tired than usual, so cleaning in-between should be quick, easy and do-able if you have the right tools and know-how.
If you’re comfortable using a traditional string floss, look for a waxed variety without flavour, like Sunstar GUM ButlerWeave, as this will be easier on sensitive gums. A thicker, waxed floss is gentler than thin.
You may find some of the wide variety of floss alternatives suit you better. Interdental brushes, like GUM Trav-Ler, are excellent at cleaning bigger gaps, or around bridges, or crowns. For added protection, dip the tiny brush in chlorhexidine mouthwash, e.g. GUM Paroex, before use to help keep gums healthy and reduce plaque build-up.
Floss on a handle, like disposable GUM Easy Flossers, is great if you have limited dexterity (also user-friendly for children)!
If budget allows, the Philips Sonicare AirFloss is a good choice; it jets a microburst of air and water between the teeth and can clean the entire mouth in just 30 seconds.
All these tools are effective; the most important thing is to find one that suits you, your mouth and your lifestyle. You also need to make sure you’re using it correctly. If you are not sure, or would appreciate advice on a method that is most suitable, ask your oral hygienist or dentist for expert advice.
How to floss like a boss
Floss like a boss in eight simple steps, using traditional string floss for a cleaner, fresher, healthier mouth:
- Take about 30cm of floss.
- Wind the floss around your middle fingers.
- Hold the floss between thumbs and index fingers.
- Slide the floss in-between teeth using a gentle back-and-forth sawing action.
- Fold floss around the side of a tooth in a c-shape.
- Slide the floss up and down, against tooth and just under the gum line.
- Repeat on the neighbouring tooth.
- Pull out and repeat using a clean section of the floss.
For more expert advice on looking after your oral health during cancer treatment, download Ivohealth’s ‘Love Your Life, Love Your Oral Care’ booklet online or email email@example.com to request a free copy. Preventing and controlling oral complications can help ease the journey through cancer treatment and ensure a better quality of life.
MEET OUR EXPERT – Dirna Grobbelaar
Dirna Grobbelaar qualified as an oral hygienist in 1999. She consults to Ivohealth, and also works in practice part-time to keep up-to-date with the latest trends, information and patient concerns.