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Flossing

Brushing only removes plaque from the accessible sides and chewing surfaces of your teeth. Flossing allows you to remove plaque from between your teeth and slightly underneath the gums. These areas are not as accessible by toothbrushes. Tooth decay commonly occurs in these areas, which is more challenging and costly to fix. Restoring these areas will generally require tooth structure to be removed to access and fill cavities, which further weakens the affected teeth.

Flossing properly at least once a day removes food from between your teeth and reduces plaque. If plaque remains on your teeth for 24 hours, bacteria begin to grow, which can lead to tooth decay, inflamed gums, periodontal disease, and missing teeth. Unfortunately, nearly 70% of people don't floss regularly or at all.1

That is why flossing is just as important as brushing for long-term oral health and a great habit to teach your children from an early age. Flossing should start when your child has two teeth that touch, often around age two or three.2

Types of floss

There are many different types of floss and methods to floss. Talk to a dentist about the pros and cons of each type of floss based on your or your child's specific needs.

  • Waxed vs. unwaxed floss: Waxed floss can be easier to slide between closely spaced teeth. When unwaxed floss 'squeaks' against cleaned teeth, it indicates that much of the plaque has been removed. Many dentists and dental hygienists may simply say, "The best floss is the one you use every day, so pick the type you like and use it daily."
  • Dental tape
  • Floss holders
  • Dental floss with rigid sections: If you have a bridge or orthodontics, consider using special dental floss with a rigid section approximately every 18 inches. Cut the floss at that section and insert the rigid end under the bridge or orthodontic wire.
  • Water flossers
  • Floss threaders

Best practices for flossing

  • Use about 18 inches of floss and wrap about 9 inches around one of your fingers. Wrap the remaining floss around a finger on your other hand. Use the fingers that are easiest for you to use the floss.
  • Position the floss to wrap as far around the tooth as possible (creating a 'C' shape) and gently buff your tooth in an up-and-down motion.
  • Do not 'saw' back and forth with the floss, as it can cut your gums.
  • Move the floss past where the teeth contact and move it down to the gum line.
  • Continue the up-and-down motion to remove plaque from where the tooth meets the gum line.
  • Position the floss to wrap around the adjacent tooth and repeat the process.
  • After flossing a couple of teeth, move the used portion of the floss around the finger with less floss and unwrap a clean section of floss from the other finger.
  • Be sure to floss between all of your teeth. Don't forget to floss the back surface of your back teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth after flossing to eliminate any remaining food deposits.
  • Do not rinse and reuse floss as it may fray or put bacteria into your mouth.

Author: Symbyos staff, Fluent staff
Last updated: 3/1/2021Medical review: Thomas J. Greany DDS, 12/28/2020
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