When arthritic joints are flaring, just brushing my teeth can seem like a challenge. Fortunately, I've found an ergonomically-designed toothbrush with a large handle so my pain is minimized, but brushing is not enough. The bristles of a toothbrush cannot adequately clean between teeth. Flossing between them (and behind back teeth) is the only way to clean these surfaces. Flossing is essential to good dental hygiene -- don't skip this vital step!

How Can I Floss If My Arthritic Hands Won't Cooperate? Flossers!

I admit that flossing was a real challenge for me when I first got arthritis. Holding on to the tiny string and then performing the repetitive motions of flossing were just too much for my joints. My dentist gave me a Reach flosser to make it easier. The handle is slim so I built it up using a gadget made to build up pencils.

Tooth Flossers

It looks like a toothbrush handle with a U-shape on the end instead of a brush. The floss comes pre-stretched across the tops of the "U". To use, position the floss between the teeth you intend to floss, with one side of the "U" in front of your teeth and the other side of the "U" behind your teeth, then bite down. This pushes the floss between your teeth to your gumline. Don't forget to gently scrape (i.e., scraping with floss). the tooth's surface up and down next to the gum line. Then pull the floss out from between your teeth and move on to the next tooth.

Reach Flosser Head

The benefit of the flosser is that it is easier for me to hold onto than a thread of floss, and instead of having to pull the floss between my teeth, I can just bite down. The head, i.e., the "U" with the floss stretched across it, snaps off for replacement. Packs of replacement "U"'s are available and they easily snap on to provide fresh floss.

Are There Problems with Flossers?

The only problem I had with the flosser was that I it was difficult to get the floss out from between a couple of my teeth that are situated very tightly against each other. I had no problem with most of my teeth, but just those two that were very tight and that was only because the arthritis prevented me from applying enough pressure. So I eventually just started using regular floss on those two teeth and the flosser everywhere else.

Be aware that the flosser I am using is the Reach brand flosser, which has a handle as long as a standard toothbrush. That is important! I forgot to bring my Reach flosser with me on a business trip, so I ran down to the gift shop to get one. All they had was a brand of flossers where the handle was boxboard-thin and about three or four inches long. I couldn't use these at all because they were so small they were too difficult for me to grasp. Look for the Reach brand or a brand that is the same length as a standard toothbrush.

What If I Can't Use a Flosser?

If for some reason you can't use a flosser (maybe all your teeth sit as tightly together as those two of mine), you can make a few changes to make regular floss easier to use.

First, get a long enough strand of floss. The American Dental Association recommends 18 inches. Wrap the ends around and around your fingers until there is just enough floss available to work with. This relieves you of the need to grasp the floss so tightly, the extra length prevents it from coming out of your fingers.

Second, space your flossing throughout the day. The American Dental Association recommends that you floss at least once each day, but you don't have to floss your entire mouth all at once. Develop a routine that splits the work up into 4 parts. Perhaps you floss the top right side after breakfast, the top left side after lunch, the bottom right side after supper, and the bottom left side before you go to bed. This will give your joints frequent "rest breaks" so they are not so strained.

Can't I Just Use a Water Irrigation or Water Jet Device Instead?

Unfortunately, no. Here's why: Water Irrigation / Water Jet devices wash away food particles and loose bacteria, so they definitely provide value, but they don't remove the sticky bacteria film that forms between teeth. If it is not scraped off by floss, that sticky film hardens into interproximal dental plaque. If not removed, the plaque hardens even further and becomes tartar, a hard mineral deposit. Once tartar forms, it can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. Without this cleaning, a gum disease called gingivitis can develop and manifest as swollen or bleeding gums. At this point, tooth decay may not be far behind. In addition, there is evidence that inflammation in the gums increases inflammation throughout the body (including those arthritic joints).

Wow! Talk about a downward spiral! That's not a place anyone wants to be, so floss every day.

For more information on dental care, check out these related articles:

Squeeze a Tube of Toothpaste in Spite of Arthritis

 Arthritis Aids for Brushing Teeth