Proper brushing, flossing are key to oral health

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shiela Kilpatrick
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Why does your dentist talk a lot about proper brushing and flossing? Does it really matter? Isn’t sticking the brush and floss in there and giving it a wiggle around good enough?

No, it is not good enough. Your dentist has good reasons for wanting you to brush and floss properly.

Proper brushing and flossing techniques ensure a clean sulcus, that natural space between the teeth and gums. There is a very small area where the gum tissue is loose before it actually connects to the tooth.

When you eat, food particles get stuck between teeth and in the sulcus. Within 20 minutes the sugar in those food particles cause bacteria to grow. If not removed properly the bacteria and food will create a film on the teeth called plaque.

Within 72 hours the plaque will harden and form what is called calculus. No, calculus is not a difficult form of math, but it is very hard. Calculus is a stone like formation of bacteria and plaque.

Calculus cannot be cleaned off by brushing and flossing. A dentist or hygienist must remove it.

Luckily it is not hard to prevent calculus from forming. Just use proper flossing and brushing techniques. The American Dental Association recommends brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once. One of those times should be before going to bed.

When brushing maintain the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the teeth. This angle gets the bristles of the brush down into the sulcus and removes the food particles. Unfortunately, brushing alone does not clean all of the sulcus. The rest must be cleaned by flossing.

When flossing, do not just pop the floss between the teeth and move on. Once the floss is between the teeth, pull against one of the teeth to form a “C” shape. The floss is then run up and down the length of the tooth. Repeat the process on both sides of every tooth.

These movements with the floss remove the food particles and dislodge the bacterial build-up in between the teeth. They also clean areas of the sulcus that brushing cannot reach.

If you don’t remove all the plaque and calculus bacteria forms, irritating the gums and causing gingivitis. Gingivitis is when the gum tissues get inflamed and red, usually resulting in tenderness and bleeding.

If gingivitis is not treated, it can turn into periodontitis, another gum disease. Periodontitis damages gum tissues and bone, often leading to tooth loss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that 47 percent of people over the age of 30 have some form of periodontitis.

Proper brushing and flossing techniques are very important in preventing serious dental problems. For a full description of proper techniques, visit the American Dental Association’s website,, or contact the Vance Dental Clinic, 580-213-7307.