Do I really need to floss during orthodontic treatment? (Yes, and here are the reasons why)

Flossing during orthodontic treatment. It’s not exactly the subject people bring up to make conversation, right?I get it.When I check in with patients about why they should floss during orthodontic treatment – regardless of whether they’re kids, teens or adults – I always get the same look.Boring!Now while it may not be information you like, share or Insta-post, if you – or your child – has braces, that roll of floss you’ve been ignoring in the bathroom cupboard needs to be your bestie. Seriously.Read on to learn why.Love your teeth? Well, just clean them!If you ask any dentist and orthodontist about the bare minimum for keeping teeth for life, you’ll get a pretty standard response. Nearly every one of them would tell you to clean and floss your teeth regularly. It’s so simple, but so frequently overlooked.Keeping teeth clean is not hard, it just requires a little discipline. You can do this two ways.With the first way, you can visit your dentist or hygiene therapist for a regular clean. While many dentists will tell you to return every six months for that regular check up, really, the frequency is dependent upon the individual and factors like diet, genetics and general health. But a clinician can only do so much. The second way is doing some of the work yourself.  Regular brushing and flossing is essential. I know you’ve heard it all before (I can feel your bored look as you read this), but the bottom line is if you want a beautiful and healthy smile after orthodontic treatment, cleaning your teeth is a non-negotiable. I talk a lot about orthodontic treatment being a partnership. Your dentist and orthodontist can only do so much. To get the best results, each person must also do their bit. And that goes for kids and teens, as well as grown ups. How do I get my child to floss during orthodontic treatment?I realise many parents struggle with holding firm to brushing and flossing, but I remind them, it’s like insurance for their investment. While it’s a bit old school, I’m not averse to reminding my younger patients how fortunate they are to be receiving orthodontic treatment. Apart from backing up the parents, my experience shows when teens and children hear it from a third party (anyone other than their parents), they tend to sit up and listen.Not everyone will go to the extremes I did with my kids when they wouldn’t clean their teeth. I found an image of teeth in a very sorry state. Then I showed them the picture. Not a pretty site, I warned them not brushing would lead to their teeth looking like those in the photo. I haven’t had an argument about brushing and flossing since.Mean mummy? Maybe. And although it’s not my professional advice to patients to adopt this approach, it worked. Prevention is always the least expensive (better) option. It’s also the best way to keep dental and orthodontic costs to a minimum. This is a huge incentive for holding firm your ground when kids won’t floss and brush.How do I make flossing a habit for my child?If your child can’t look after their teeth with regular brushing and flossing without braces, chances are, it will be harder for them to maintain a regular habit when they get braces. Ideally, flossing is a solid habit established before treatment. If it’s not, the consequences can be dire. In most cases, the habits a child has prior to braces, are the habits they maintain during treatment. Without the right ones in place beforehand, the benefits of braces and orthodontic treatment can be diminished significantly.Remember the investment protection I mentioned? Making flossing a habit means holding firm to your boundaries. You might even try using consequences for not flossing. This might sound dramatic, but consider the following cases.As an orthodontist, I’ve seen parents invest enormous amounts (time, effort, energy and money) in their children’s orthodontic treatment, only to find decalcification and decay have developed through poor hygiene. When I see situations like this, I have even stopped treating patients who haven’t taken responsibility for their oral hygiene, because ultimately it defeats the purpose of the treatment. After all, who wants straight teeth with holes and white spots?The two stories below are great examples of how a lack of basic oral hygiene habits, like flossing during orthodontic treatment, can have serious lasting consequences.  

Simone, 13 year old girl – Wouldn’t floss her teeth during orthodontic treatment

Simone started treatment with me when she was 13 years old. Her dad brought her to appointments and after about 12 months of treatment, she started to show all the signs of a rebellious teenager. She stopped brushing her teeth and taking care of her oral health. In fact, the condition of her teeth deteriorated so badly I decided to remove her braces. There simply was no point continuing treatment because it wasn’t working. The message here is, without commitment from both patient and parent, it’s difficult to get the most ideal outcome – a confident smile we love for life.

Andrew, 15 year old boy – Needed to learn responsibility for his own oral hygiene

Like Simone, Andrew didn’t maintain the basics of oral hygiene during his orthodontic treatment. He was so careless, I resolved with his mother to remove the braces and cease treatment until he was prepared to look after his teeth better. Because he’d refused to brush and floss, his teeth had suffered serious decalcification and decay over a remarkably short period. His parents funded the course of orthodontic treatment, a retainer, AND a second course of braces, because this young man wasn’t prepared to take on the responsibility for looking after his own teeth the first time.What’s the message about orthodontic treatment and flossing?It’s your job! Or the job of your child or teen if they’re receiving treatment. We’re not doing our kids any favours by letting them off the hook when it comes to basic life skills like taking responsibility for flossing teeth during orthodontic treatment. Our team at Menai Orthodontics  does everything it can to help our patients understand how important flossing is – before, during and after treatment. We reward good behaviour, like regular hygiene cleans at the dentist; give feedback and encouragement at consults; and support every positive action like we’re their running partner, to keep them going.Is flossing during and after orthodontic treatment hard? Not really. It just requires discipline. What is hard is living the with consequences of not flossing. Dr Sarah Dan is an orthodontist and advocate for early orthodontic assessment. Her approach focuses on improving orthodontic treatment outcomes for children, including kids and teens who need to develop healthy oral hygiene habits, like flossing during orthodontic treatment. Through her experience as a clinician and parent, and having adult orthodontic treatment herself, Sarah truly understands orthodontics from the patient’s perspective. She ‘gets’ it and has developed her unique 5-Step Process to help patients navigate the treatment journey to a confident, beautiful smile at any age and stage of life.

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