How to floss your teeth properly
Why flossing is important
Most people know that they should floss once a day, but not everyone knows why. Brushing your teeth does an excellent job of removing plaque from tooth surfaces, but brushing alone isn’t enough to keep tooth decay and gum disease at bay. With a proper flossing regimen, you can remove left over food particles and plaque from the places a toothbrush cannot easily reach – think the spaces between your teeth and under the gum line. So, as a general rule of thumb, dentists recommend that you floss at least once per day.
How to floss properly: A step-by-step guide
Here is a step-by-step guide to proper flossing. Of course, if you have any questions, you can always speak with your dentist or hygienist who will be happy to demonstrate for you.
- Take about 16-20 inches of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving only about an inch or two of floss to work with.
- Holding the floss with your thumbs and index fingers, carefully guide the floss between your teeth and “in gentle sawing motion”, pop the floss between the tooth contacts, being careful not to jam it into the gums.
- Once between the teeth, curve the floss into a C-shape, pressed tight against one tooth. Then, slide the floss up and down the tooth and root surface, going just under the gumline. Make sure to never force the floss further than it wants to go since this action can irritate or cut your gum tissue. Repeat this process on the tooth on the other side of the space.
- To remove the floss, use the same back-and-forth sawing motion to bring the floss up and away from the space between your teeth.
- Repeat this action for each tooth, using clean sections of floss as you move from space to space. Don’t forget the back side of the last tooth in each corner of your mouth.
- Dispose of the dental floss in a trash can. It's important to never re-use a piece of floss as it will not be as effective and could leave behind bacteria that you don't want in your mouth.
What type of floss to use
There are several types of dental floss on the market that can all get the job done if used correctly and regularly. Pick one that you like, one that suits your mouth condition, and the type you find easiest to use. The best floss or interdental cleaner is the one you will use daily. Let’s look at the various options:
Nylon (multifilament) floss: Nylon flosses are composed of many strands of nylon fibers that help remove plaque from your teeth. This product is available both waxed and unwaxed. Unwaxed is thinner and easier to grip. Waxed may help the floss slide through the tooth easier and comes in different flavors like mint or cinnamon.
- Advantages: This is thin floss that may work well if you have tight contacts between your teeth.
- Disadvantages: This type of floss tends to shred easier than others when it catches on rough fillings or in tight tooth contacts.
Monofilament floss: This floss is a single-strand polytetrafluorethylene (PFTE) fiber, the same material that’s used in high-tech Gore-Tex fabric and non-stick coatings. This type of floss is more expensive than multifilament nylon floss. It is available in different flavors and can also be wax coated.
- Advantages: It slides very easily between teeth and is far more break and shred-resistant than multifilament nylon floss.
- Disadvantages: If you prefer all-natural products, this floss may not be for you as it is made from man-made substances.
Dental tape: A multistrand nylon that is thicker and flatter than regular floss. Comes waxed and unwaxed and in multiple flavors.
- Advantages: Dental tape may be a good option for people with larger spaces between their teeth. It is less likely to break than regular floss.
- Disadvantages: This may not the best option if you have tight contacts between teeth.
Super floss: This is a pre-cut floss that comes in individual pieces. It has 3 distinct segments, a stiff end that can be threaded under bridge work and around braces and implants, a regular floss segment for under the gums, and a puffy, spongy section for wide spaces and under dental appliances.
Electric flossers: There are two main types of electric flossers - water flossers (oral irrigators) and air flossers. Both types use a stream of water directed through a small specialized tip to blast away debris and plaque from between the teeth. An air flosser is also an oral irrigator but carries the tiny water droplets on a jet of air.
- Advantages: Good for people who may have trouble manipulating floss with their fingers, such as those with physical impairments or older adults. Children who already use electric toothbrushes may find electric flossers fun and familiar to use. People with braces, implants or bridgework that is difficult to clean around may benefit.
- Disadvantages: This option is more expensive than traditional dental floss and can be messy.
Interdental brushes: These tiny finger-held brushes are shaped like little trees and can be used to clean between the teeth and under the gumline. Studies show these perform very well and can be better than floss at removing plaque from between the teeth.1
- Advantages: They come in different sizes which allows easy access to different sites within the mouth. These are also highly effective for people that have already been treated for periodontal disease as they have more space between their teeth, but can also be used effectively by those with healthy gums. Lastly, interdental brushes are very effective for those with existing periodontal problems, wide tooth spacing or with braces, bridgework or implants.2
Flossing devices: For those that have a difficult time holding the floss between their fingers, various devices are available to make the job easier. These usually allow for one-hand operation:
- Floss pics: These one-time use devices come with a small piece of floss pre-strung in a c-shape.
- Floss holders: These devices are reusable and allow you to string your own piece of floss between two arms or as pre-strung one-time use devices. They are usually in a Y-shape but come in a variety of configurations.
While proper daily brushing habits are extremely important, flossing is a major piece of achieving optimal oral health. This is because flossing and other cleaning aids work between the teeth to break up plaque colonies which toothbrushing alone cannot accomplish.
People often ask how frequently they should be flossing. While most dentists or hygienist will say once a day, the important thing is to get into a regular habit of flossing, as it plays a critical role in optimizing gingival health and preventing oral disease. If you have any questions about the above steps or the right kind of floss for you, we recommend talking to your dentist or dental hygienist who would be happy to help.
1Worthington, H. V., MacDonald, L., Poklepovic Pericic, T., Sambunjak, D., Johnson, T. M., Imai, P., & Clarkson, J. E. (2019, April 10). Home use of interdental cleaning devices, in addition to toothbrushing, for preventing and controlling periodontal diseases and dental caries. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30968949
2Ng, E., & Lim, L. P. (2019, June 1). An Overview of Different Interdental Cleaning Aids and Their Effectiveness. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6630384/