Floss Holders, What They Are, What They Are For, Do You Need One

Dental floss holders are designed to make flossing easier, faster and sometimes more cost-effective. Although this is the general purpose of a dental floss holder, they do not always live up to their reputation so in this article we will discuss the differences between manual flossing and dental floss holders. We will also look at the features you should look for in a dental floss holder and carry out some reviews.

The two main diseases in the mouth are dental decay also known as dental caries and gum disease also known as gingivitis or periodontitis. Dental floss holders are mainly designed to combat gum disease. They are also designed to combat bad breath which often occurs hand-in-hand with gum disease anyway and also to make your mouth feel fresher.

We know that more teeth are compromised and lost through gum disease rather than tooth decay. One of the reasons for this is that gum disease once it takes hold, maybe irreversible and the damage that it has already done cannot be reversed. Gum disease also requires having onboard the professional dentist and you as a patient to work together. It definitely cannot be a one-sided effort.

Gum disease is a general umbrella term to comprise of gingivitis and periodontitis also known as periodontal disease. Gingivitis occurs in the early stages and is characterised by gums which have a degree of swelling, redness and the bleed when brushing. Gingivitis can be fairly quickly and easily reversed by the patient maintaining good oral hygiene and by the dentist or dental hygienist carrying out a meticulous scale and polish of all your teeth. Periodontitis however cannot be quickly and easily treated as gingivitis. It can take a considerable time and even then it may not be successful. In periodontitis, if the patient’s oral hygiene regime is not absolutely meticulous then the periodontitis will continue to become worse. A normal toothbrush whether it be manual or electric will clean about 75% of the surfaces of your teeth. The other 25% of surfaces cannot be cleaned with a normal toothbrush because the bristles cannot get into those areas. These areas are mainly the areas we call interdental areas. These are the areas where the teeth meet each other. This is when we need to use dental floss which passes down into the interdental area to manually clean plaque. Bacterial plaque is the cause of gingivitis and periodontal disease and is a film of sticky microorganisms.

Less than half of all patients use floss regularly and there is a reason for this. As well as taking extra time, it can be difficult and time-consuming to carry it out properly patients so will just give up. There are also other problems such as difficulty in passing the floss between the teeth and often it will rip or shred causing more hassle. In the end, patients just give up. The choice of floss and the technique itself is important in reducing the above nuisances and this is where floss holders have come in to help the patient.

A dental floss holder is usually shaped like a catapult and across the two prongs, a piece of dental floss is attached. The catapult of the floss holder is then used to navigate the floss to go in between the teeth and manually clean that interdental area. This is the basic design of a floss holder although there are many variations. You can also buy floss holders for children and these are usually smaller and more colourful with cartoon character shapes. Finally, some floss holders, come with floss attached and therefore after using it, the dental floss and the floss holder which comes attached in one piece is thrown away. These are termed, non-reusable floss holders. The floss holders that come with just the catapult part of the holder require that you use your own dental floss to attach onto it. When you are finished with that piece of dental floss, you take it off the holder and place a new piece.

Before we go into floss holders themselves, it is important to note that dental floss is not the only implement to use to remove plaque interdentally. There are other interdental implements such as toothpicks, interdental brushes and waterjet devices. You should use the interdental agent that your dentist recommends as your dentist is the best person to advise on how these interdental spaces in your mouth can be most effectively cleaned.

To use dental floss in the normal conventional manner, you pull out a piece about 6 inches in length and one end is wrapped around usually the forefinger of one hand. The other end is then also wrapped around usually the forefinger of the other hand. This leaves behind a small and attached piece about 1 inch in length. It is this portion that you then pass in between the teeth. This is where it is important to know about contact points. Contact points are the areas where two teeth meet each other and in some patients, contact points are open and in others they can be really tight. This is where problems occur because in contact points that are tight, it will not be easy to pass the floss through and this is when it can just break off or worse still start to shred. Where the contact points are non-existent and the interdental spaces are wide, it is better to use interdental brushes in these circumstances.

When the floss has been passed through the contact point, it is then rubbed
physically against the surface of each tooth. So in each contact point area, there will be 2 surfaces to clean correlating to the 2 teeth. You should almost get a squeaky feel to ensure that the cleaning has been adequately carried out and all the plaque has been removed.

In summary, the problems that occur with traditional manual flossing are the following.

  1. It requires manual dexterity to navigate around your mouth.
  2. Using dental floss also requires working from a mirror and saw this can be also difficult as the images reversed.
  3. The angle at which the floss approaches the contact point area has to be correct.
  4. If the angle is incorrect, this can produce resistance so that the floss does not go down that gap.
  5. Also if the angle is incorrect, the floss may pass through but might shred or even break.
  6. Teeth which have tight contact points can cause the dental floss to break or rip. The dental floss can even physically get stuck and this can be difficult to remove.

A dental floss holder tries to minimise the above problems but in reality, many problems still arise and even additional problems can be presented. Having said that, if you are having difficulty using floss in the normal conventional manner, you are best asking your dentist for his opinion and how you should brush and floss your teeth. Your dentist can do a number of helpful things such as looking at how you actually are flossing and help in that aspect. In addition, they may recommend an actual particular type of floss such as dental tape which can be much easier to utilise in certain circumstances.

The main disadvantages of dental floss holders are that you have to buy dental floss as well as a dental floss holder unless they both come combined but then the cost will be more anyway. In some of the dental floss holders that we tested, the plastic would bend easily making flossing almost impossible. Some dental floss holders, with floss and are termed non-reusable but this also adds to the cost and you can’t guarantee the quality of the floss supplied or use your own particular type of floss.