Do I Need to Floss?
Keeping teeth clean is the biggest step you can take to keep them healthy.
Brushing is the first step, it removes debris and plaque from the surface of the teeth, at least the parts you can see.
But a brush isn’t so good at reaching the interdental areas, that is, the spaces between teeth. To do that you need to use something a little thinner and more flexible. Dental Floss is the answer for most people.
There was some question about the need for flossing after it was dropped from the US Department of Health and Human Services dietary recommendations. But the department later clarified that while flossing was not listed as a dietary recommendation, it is still an important oral hygiene practice. Studies have shown that flossing reduces gum irritation and improves dental health.
What is Dental Floss?
Dental Floss, at its most basic, is a string that can be moved along the sides of teeth in order to remove plaque and debris. Variations include a wider dental tape, waxed floss and flavored floss. There are also disposable flossers that usually include a toothpick-like end for additional interdental cleaning.
The Right Dental Floss
Floss was originally made from silk or similar materials. Today, standard floss is made of nylon or plastic filaments. If the space between your teeth is tight, a floss coated with wax may make it easier to clean between teeth. If you have wider spaces between teeth, a flat dental tape may be more effective.
There are flavored flosses that may be more pleasant to use. There are standard flavors like mint or cinnamon, but for the more adventurous there are many extreme flavors. Why not try cupcake or bacon flavored floss? Or be a little more esoteric with absinthe floss. Which actually tastes a lot like licorice. Or, in season, try pumpkin spice. There’s also pickle, banana, ranch dressing, breakfast foods and even cat food flavors.
If you find that floss shreds or breaks easily for you, there are flosses made with higher strength materials. You must try them out to see what makes you most comfortable to use.
No one type of floss has been proven more effective than others, the American Dental Association says the best type of floss is the one you are most likely to use regularly.
The Right Time To Floss
The ADA recommends brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. It doesn’t matter whether you do it before or after brushing, as long as you do a thorough job.
Some people like flossing at night so they will have a clean mouth while they sleep. Others like to make it part of the morning routine. Still others like to floss right after a meal. The ADA says anytime is good and the best time is whenever you are most likely to do it consistently.
The Proper Flossing Technique
- Start with about 18 inches of floss.
- Wrap most of it around one of your middle fingers and leave about four inches.
- Then wrap the rest of the slack around the corresponding finger on the other hand. That may seem like a lot of floss, but you need enough to wrap tightly around both fingers with room to work with and extra floss to rotate in as the floss gets dirty.
- Pinch the floss between your thumbs and forefingers and gently insert it between your teeth. Use a gentle back and forth motion to get the floss in and out of tight spots.
- Curve the floss around the tooth. Keeping the floss pressed against your tooth, move it up and down gently to remove debris and plaque.
- Gently move the floss below the gum line, keeping it curved to the surface of the tooth. ‘Gently’ is the key word here. Don’t jerk or snap the floss, or you may bruise or damage sensitive gum tissue.
- Repeat between all teeth, making sure to clean both sides of each tooth. Unwind clean floss from one finger and take up the slack on the other finger to provide clean floss.
If you have trouble reaching your back teeth, you may want to consider a floss holder that can be loaded with floss, or a disposable flosser.
After flossing, rinse your mouth out with water or mouthwash to remove any debris that have been dislodged.
Words of Warning
- Unlike a toothbrush, floss is not meant to be reused. Doing so can re-introduce bacteria into the mouth. Reused floss is also more likely to fray or lose its effectiveness. At an average cost of less than a dime per yard, it’s not worth the money you’d save.
- Don’t put pressure on the gums when flossing, it has no benefit and will damage the gums.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to get fancy or floss more than one tooth at a time in an effort to save time.
- Pay attention to the signs of future dental problems. Teeth are supposed to be smooth. If you encounter a rough spot, let your dentist know. At best, you will not be able to clean that area well. At worst, it may be a sign of active dental disease.
Obstacles to flossing may include dental overhangs, potential cavities, or tarter, all of which can lead to other problems.
While flossing is the preferred method of interdental cleaning, there are other options.
- An electric flosser uses a nylon tip to reach between teeth with rapid gentle strokes.
- A water flosser uses water to clean. There are also air flossers and sonic flossers that use sound waves to clean between teeth. If you are unsure what type of device to use, look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
There is a right way to floss, but there are many options when it comes to the type of floss and when to use it. The right choice varies from person to person, but in the end, the best type of floss and time to use it are the ones that work for you.
This article was reviewed and approved by a board certified dentist.