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Do you *really* need to floss? Dentists weigh in once and for all

Well+Good logo Well+Good 4/13/2018 Rachel Lapidos
should you floss: Stocksy-smile-visualspectrum © Photo: Stocksy/Visualspectrum Stocksy-smile-visualspectrum

Alongside washing your face before bed and eating your daily greens, flossing twice a day is one of those pieces of health advice that you know you're supposed to be following to a tee. In reality, though? It's not always happening (just me?).

As far as the flossing commandment, however, I can probably count on one hand (maybe even one finger) how many people I know who floss on the reg—which completely goes against what all dentists say.

Then again, the health staple has even come under fire in the past couple of years, with the Associated Press announcing that there's no scientific evidence that you need to be flossing daily. So what gives?

"Everyone should floss at least once a day," says Timothy Chase, DMD, a New York-based cosmetic dentist and practicing partner of SmilesNY. "If you don't, you leave food particles between the teeth and under the gums that can cause cavities, gum disease, and bad breath."

The problem lies in your toothbrush, which only reaches roughly 25 to 50 percent of your tooth surfaces, according to Dr. Chase. "Brushing alone doesn't go between the teeth or under the gum, where food particles get stuck," he explains—and that's the area where most adult cavities form.

Your tooth has five surfaces, according to celebrity cosmetic dentist Bill Dorfman, DMD. "You can only clean three of them by brushing, so two-fifths aren't getting cleaned unless you floss," he explains. "That's not a passing grade in anyone's book." Sigh—and no one wants a failing grade in hygiene.

If you avoid the situation and stick to your toothbrush only, Dr. Chase says that you risk developing cavities, gingivitis, and eventually periodontitis—which is a serious gum infection that could destroy the bone that supports your teeth (yikes). And Dr. Dorfman adds that you can lose teeth. But, fear not—I asked about the absolute minimum amount of flossing that you can get away with and still have healthy teeth.

The answer? Once a day, according to Dr. Chase (though Dr. Dorfman is adamant that twice a day is key). Choose your own dental adventure, I suppose.

Slideshow: How to get through a cleaning when you're terrified of the dentist (Courtesy: Refinery29) 

Whirring drills. Crying kids. Masked dentists shoving their gloved hands in your mouth. Chemical smells wafting through an office. For lots of people, going to the dentist is more like a scene from a horror film than a routine checkup, and it can cause intense and sometimes irrational feelings of fear.Dental anxiety is very common, and can grow into a full-blown phobia for some people, says Ken Mazey, PhD, a clinical psychologist and contributing lecturer on the psychology of fears at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry. People with dental phobias might avoid going to the dentist altogether, he adds, which can cause a whole slew of other issues. But why are some people so sensitive to the dentist, while others are totally chill?"The reasons vary depending on the personality and experience of the person," Dr. Mazey says. You might have had a traumatic experience at the dentist as a child, which then sets the stage for an anxious reaction in the dentist office, he says. Or if your older sibling or parent always freaked out before the dentist, you could pick up on those anxieties and come to fear the same scenarios.But even if you don't have a phobia-level fear, getting your teeth cleaned can feel like a violation of your sense of boundaries. "You have a stranger going into your mouth, poking around with all kinds of instruments, [while you're] in a reclined and vulnerable position," he says. "So the nature is intrusive and inherently anxiety-provoking — at least momentarily."Luckily, there are some effective coping strategies that you can try the next time you're sequestered to the dentist chair. "Anxiety has a cognitive and emotional component, so coping strategies have to address the different levels of the response," Dr. Mazey says. "It's not an overnight thing, because you have to learn how to take care of yourself and integrate bad experiences in a way that won't haunt you," he says. And, triggers can be unpredictable, so learning to anticipate and react to them can take some time. But walking into the office armed with some techniques can be hugely helpful when your anxiety does strike. How to get through a teeth cleaning when you're terrified of the dentist

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