How do I floss? Using gosh darn yarn!?
November 22, 2015 4:48 PM   Subscribe

I’ve developed either an allergy or a sensitivity to even unwaxed, unflavored dental floss. What can I use other than floss to floss?

Once I entered my forties, it became the case that if I don’t floss daily my gums get red and start to hurt. So I floss daily… but three weeks ago my unwaxed, unflavored floss began to irritate my gums and my face around my mouth. Disposable floss picks cause less facial rash, but still seem to irritate my gums.

Fishing line is a terrible idea, right? Is the low pressure setting on my new waterpik enough or should I crank it up even though that’s painful? What else could work?

Additional Info:
A year ago I developed a toothpaste allergy; now I brush daily with baking soda instead. I don’t currently use mouthwash.
My dentist has no experience with floss or toothpaste allergies.
I’m getting an appointment with an allergist, hopefully soon.

(I decided this rash and gum irritation were being caused by the floss, by running this experiment: I skipped a few days of flossing and the face rash faded. I began flossing again, the rash returned. I stopped flossing again, it faded again. During these tests I only changed my flossing; the rest of my routine stayed the same.)
posted by pickles_have_souls to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are the gaps between your teeth wide enough for you to use Stimudents until you figure out what substitute floss you can use?
posted by Calloused_Foot at 4:54 PM on November 22, 2015

I like Listerine Ultraclean (formerly Reach). It's a floss made of some sort of plastic-y, stretchy stuff with grooves on it that capture and remove plaque.

It may or may not work for you, but it's cheap and might be worth a try.
posted by pie ninja at 4:55 PM on November 22, 2015

Similar to the suggestion above, I like the GUM picks. I see them for sale in small packages at every grocery store and pharmacy, so it would be cheap to test if they worked for you or not.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:57 PM on November 22, 2015

Are you allergic to silk? Radius makes an all-silk dental floss.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 4:58 PM on November 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A few thoughts.

Avoid touching your face altogether by using not just a floss pick but a handled flosser. You have to do a bit of wrangling to use a disposable flosser, and a ton of wrangling to get in there with a line of floss, and maybe it's the dragging saliva-y stuff all around your mouth that's causing the problems on the skin around your mouth. Maybe? Anyway, I use this Reach Access flosser and love it.

You might also want to experiment with different kinds of floss. The cheapest way to do this would be to call your dentist's office and explain to whomever is working reception that you've developed a sensitivity to your floss and was wondering if they could give you a few samples of floss to try out. My uncle is a dentist and has tons of sample crap. Some of it are his standard order (monogrammed toothbrushes, etc) but a lot of it is just stuff that companies send him to try out, so every time I see him he gives me a bag full of weird promo floss and stuff. Your dentist may hook you up big time. Try a few and see what works.

If you want to floss with like-yarn, try woven floss. It's great.

Don't actually floss with yarn. (Or fishing line. You'll tear your gums up.)
posted by phunniemee at 4:59 PM on November 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

There is some evidence that the Waterpik may in fact be more efficacious at removing plaque than dental floss. Turning up the pressure may be enough to do it, though it does take some time for your gums to adapt, in my experience.
posted by un petit cadeau at 4:59 PM on November 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

These! Piksters are amazing, SO MUCH better than floss, I can't even tell you. Get the size zero. These changed my flossing life.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:05 PM on November 22, 2015

Have you tried Glide? It is flat and ribbon-like, rather than string-like, so may not irritate your gums so much.
posted by msbubbaclees at 5:06 PM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thing is, wouldn't you just develop a new allergy to the next thing? I would recommend tackling those allergies. If you are continually getting more allergies, run away inflammation in your throat/gut lining and/or joints are probably the main cause. (The most likely candidates being off the top of my head, mastocytosis/IBS, EDS, rhuematoid arthritis (joint stuff), IBD (UC/Crohn's), and Eosinophilic disorders EOE/EOG, and celiac)

(Not your allergist) When I was allergic to literally everything, including tap water, toothpaste, every food, and every lotion/floss etc. Taking a course of LDN, prednisone/budesonide, and benadryl gradually gave me my life back. I think this could work for anyone, subbing the appropriate immune suppressant or drug of choice (seriously go to a gastro/rheum), lots of antihistamines, and Low Dose Naltrexone. If you have asthma too, you may be able to get Xolair, which has the nice side effect of lowering allergies with repeated doses as well.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 5:12 PM on November 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can't use the gumpix or stimudent but I carry opalpix with me andthey have proven to be lifesavers.
posted by janey47 at 5:50 PM on November 22, 2015

I use a water pik with some apple cider vinegar added to the water. I do it daily and never use string to floss. My checkups come out with flying colors, the hygienist said to keep up the good work.
posted by diode at 8:47 PM on November 22, 2015

Have you tried using some natural versions of floss and toothpaste? They might not contain the ingredients that are causing a reaction. In the toothpaste especially, there are known irritants.

Mr. Sunny uses dental brushes similar to those fingersandtoes recommends above. There are a gazillion different kinds out there, and it couldn't hurt to try a few.
posted by annsunny at 9:02 PM on November 22, 2015

Waterpik! I was a daily flosser, but still had one problem area according to my dentist. She suggested I switch to a Waterpik and now my gums are much improved. String floss is not your only option.
posted by quince at 9:56 PM on November 22, 2015

My dentist just this morning recommended the Airfloss to me. The Waterpik is great too, but the Airfloss is gentler if you have bleeding gum issues.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:01 PM on November 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Airfloss mentioned above changed my life. I went from flossing hater to OHYESITISTIMEFORMYTEETHTOFEELSOFRESHANDSOCLEAN every night.
posted by shazzam! at 4:03 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

It took me less than two weeks of low setting waterpik use to be comfortable turning it up to the high setting. Don't feel like you have to torture yourself from the get go, you can likely ratchet it up.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:01 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm very fond of dental tape. I think some others have suggested specific brands of it without mentioning the product by name.

also, when I was going through some dental work that prevented me from flossing, I used a Waterpik and also the device whose name I can't remember. It kind of looks like an electric toothbrush but it just had a teeny tiny rubber tube at the end that flailed around and sprayed water between the teeth.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:11 AM on November 23, 2015

As a floss hater, I have come to love the Sulcabrush. My dentist is very pleasantly surprised at the results.
posted by scruss at 7:01 AM on November 23, 2015

Response by poster: Armed with the advice of kind MeFites, I have voyaged deep into the world of dental products. For others with this question in the future, here are my discoveries so far. (Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional.)

Summary of Tentative Conclusions:
• Allergen residue seems to remain on hands and face--even overnight. Because of this, it's unclear how much of a reaction unwaxed, unflavored flosses and floss picks are causing.
• Waxed and flavored flosses/floss picks are causing the worst reaction.
• Specific floss recommendations are below.
• A waterpik doesn't work as well as floss for me, but is still useful and causes no reaction.
• The reusable Ultraclean Access handle flosser phunniemee mentioned comes in contact with the least amount of hand and face skin of all flosses/floss picks. I've only just started trying it.

Elaboration and Many, Many Details:
The biggest realization of this month was that the allergen in the dental floss gets on my hands and on my face around the mouth, and may remain there. This seems slightly obvious in retrospect, but a couple eye rubbing incidents made it very obvious.

Therefore, the continued worsening of the facial rash when I used unwaxed, unflavored products might have been caused by residue remaining from previous nights when I used waxy and/or flavored products. Future experiments must be designed to avoid this confusion. My hunch is that some, but not all, unwaxed, unflavored products contain the allergen.

Consistently, the heavily flavored or waxed flosses (the silk floss was one of those) and floss picks caused an almost immediate irritation to my lips, so the problem has to be something in the wax or flavoring. Though POH NoWax Classic 490 unflavored nylon floss caused the least reaction, it shredded, badly, and got stuck between my narrow teeth. When I use floss now, I resort to using the second least allergenic: CVS unwaxed, unflavored dental floss.

Toothpicks and interdental brushes were too big to get between my tight teeth. The handled flosser and floss picks were better, but didn't seem to reach everywhere floss could. The Sulcabrush requires dexterity but it is promising since it can reach fairly well many places including along the gum line. However, it also seemed to cause a reaction--which I find hard to believe. Maybe the reaction is caused by aforementioned lingering waxy residue from previous nights' exposure to floss.

As for the waterpik, my dentist told me not to turn up the water pressure very high. For a week I substituted the waterpik for floss and brushed my teeth with baking soda as usual. This caused my gums to slowly become inflamed. In my opinion, this inflammation was caused by not flossing because when I resumed flossing but continued waterpiking, it went away. For me, the waterpik can't substitute for floss. The waterpik does wash away sugar and I bet it helps to wash away any allergen left in between gums and teeth.

Other things not mentioned so far you might want to try are:
• getting an appointment to see a doctor with a specialty in allergic contact dermatitis
• wearing exam gloves when flossing

Good luck!
posted by pickles_have_souls at 7:08 PM on December 21, 2015

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