It’s no secret that flossing is good for your teeth and gums, even if it’s not always our favorite part of our dental routine. Flossing helps to prevent the buildup of plaque, which can lead to tartar. And flossing your teeth can make them look brighter by removing plaque and excess food particles that you may not see in the mirror, or in areas that your toothbrush doesn’t reach. Flossing helps to keep your gums healthy, which is good since chronically unhealthy gums can increase your risk of losing your teeth or needing a root canal.
If you’re not a regular flosser (or even if you are), you may need a refresher on what to floss with, and how to do it properly. Not all floss is created equal, and no matter what type you choose, how you use it matters.
Dental Floss Types
The key to successful flossing is doing it every day, so you should choose a type that works for you. Each type of dental floss has pros and cons:
- Unwaxed floss is thin nylon floss made of about 35 strands twisted together. It fits into tight spaces if your teeth are close together, but it can be prone to shredding or breaking.
- Waxed floss is a standard nylon floss with a light wax coating. It is less likely to break, but the wax coating may make it harder to use in tight spots.
- Dental tape is broader and flatter than standard floss and comes in waxed or unwaxed versions. People with more space between their teeth often find dental tape more comfortable to use than standard floss.
- Polytetrafluorethylene floss (PTFE) is the same material used in high-tech Gore-Tex spongy fabric. The material slides between the teeth easily and is less likely to shred compared to standard floss.
- Super flosses are made from yarn-like material that has stiffer sections on each end that can be used to clean around braces or dental bridges.
- Disposable flossers are a particularly good choice for young children who may be less able to keep the floss holders reliably clean.
- Electric flossers provide another alternative for people who have a hard time manipulating floss. But anyone who has a very unsteady grip should not use an electric flosser unsupervised.
How to Floss Correctly
First step is to make sure you are working with clean hands, so make sure and wash them first. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association explains the key elements of proper flossing technique in four simple steps*:
- Wind: Wind 18 inches of floss around either the middle finger or the index finger of one hand, whichever you prefer, and a small amount onto the middle or index finger of the other hand. (Using the middle finger leaves your index finger free to manipulate the floss.) That sounds like a lot, but you want enough to keep a clean segment in place as you move from tooth to tooth. Pinch floss between thumbs and index fingers, leaving a one- to two-inch length in between. Use thumbs to direct floss between upper teeth.
- Guide: Keep a one- to two-inch length of floss taut between fingers. Use index fingers to guide floss between contacts of the lower teeth.
- Glide: Gently guide floss between the teeth by using a zig-zag motion. Be careful not to let the floss snap or “pop” between teeth. Contour floss around the side of the tooth, making a C shape with the floss as you wrap it around the tooth.
- Slide: Slide floss up and down against the tooth surface and under the gum line, and don’t forget to floss the back side of each tooth. As you move from one tooth to the next, unroll a fresh section of floss from the finger of one hand while rolling the used floss onto the finger of the other hand. Use your thumb as a guide.
This technique applies to whichever type of floss you choose: waxed, unwaxed, spongy floss, or dental tape. It doesn’t matter whether you start with your upper or lower teeth, or whether you start in the front or the back. Just make sure that you floss all your teeth, including the back side of the very last tooth on the left, right, top and bottom of your mouth. And don’t forget to floss under the gum line and along the sides of teeth that border any spaces where teeth are missing—food particles can become trapped in these spaces, too. Using the correct technique will help you remove the excess food particles and plaque buildup between your teeth and help improve your oral health.
USING A HAND-HELD FLOSSER:
Hold the flosser handle firmly and point the flossing tip at an angle facing the area you want to floss first (either top teeth or bottom teeth). Guide the floss gently between two teeth, and be sure to avoid snapping or popping the floss. Use the same zig-zag motion that you would use with standard floss. Bend the floss around each tooth and slide it under the gum line and along each tooth surface.
USING AN ELECTRIC FLOSSER:
The same basic flossing techniques apply if you choose an electric flosser. Guide the floss gently into place and move the flosser back and forth to create a zig-zag motion with the floss.
*For more information on proper flossing techniques and tools, visit OralB.com.