You just came from your dentist and you were told you need to floss more. We all have room for improvement in this category. But let’s say you have never really been a fan of flossing. This means you could use some information on what is the proper way to floss your teeth.
Because there are a few important things you need to know about flossing, I am here to help you. I am a dental hygienist and more often than not, my patients tell me they do not floss. Mostly, this is because they have never made it part of their oral health routine. I am often surprised by how many people do not know how to properly floss. When I ask patients to show me how they do it, 9 out of 10 people do not even know how to hold the floss during flossing.
Whether you are a professional flosser or someone who has never really tried it, I am going to explain the proper flossing technique so you will be well on your way to better check ups! I will also discuss the best dental floss products available today and why you need to be cleaning between your teeth.
Proper Flossing Technique
These steps will ensure an easy and effective flossing experience:
- Start by breaking off about 18 inches of floss from the container
- Wrap each end of the floss around your middle fingers of each hand-this gives you a good grip on the floss without losing circulation to your finger tips and allows better access to back teeth (if you wrap it on your index fingers you will not have good access to back areas)
- Pinch the floss between your index fingers and thumbs of each hand leaving from 1-3 inches between your fingers (this is the piece you will work with in your mouth)
- Using a gentle motion, glide the floss between your teeth using a rubbing motion
- Be sure not to put too much pressure to prevent the floss from snapping into the gumline and causing injury to the gums
- Once the floss hits the gumline, you will want to wrap it into a “c” shape and gently move the floss up and down along the side of a tooth
- Before removing it from the contact, wrap the floss in a “c” shape against the adjacent tooth and move it up and down along the adjacent tooth in the same manner
- As you move to the next area to floss, wrap the floss around the middle finger of one hand and unwrap it from middle finger of the other hand to assure a fresh piece of floss to work with in each area
- Move from one contact area to the next until every in between area has been cleaned
- Be sure to wrap the floss behind the farthest back tooth on the top and bottom- this area often is forgotten and is not easy to reach with your toothbrush
- It helps if you follow a pattern so you do not miss or skip any areas (such as right to left on top and then left to right on bottom)
- A used piece of floss is ineffective so, when you are finished, throw the floss in the trash so you do not transfer bacteria to others
- Follow up flossing with a two-minute session with your toothbrush
Watch this video that goes over each of the steps listed above:
Use the Right Product-What’s the Best Floss to Use?
With so many dental flosses on the market to choose from, I want to make it simple for you to decide on the right one. It all boils down to the type of teeth you have. By that, I mean how closely they are spaced together. It is important to use the floss suited to how tight the contacts between them are.
If you use a floss that is too thin, it will tend to break and shred. This will leave filaments and strands of floss particles stuck between your teeth. Very frustrating! If you use a floss that is too thick, you will struggle to fit it between your teeth-especially if your teeth are close together. This can also be frustrating.
The best floss is one that will easily go between your teeth without breaking or fraying. Ideally you want a product that can adapt to the type of contacts you have whether they are tight or widely spaced. Most people have a variety of contacts throughout their mouths. The front teeth may be tight and the back molars more widely spaced (or vice versa). This is why you need a product that can easily go from one type of space to the next and be used throughout your mouth.
As a hygienist, I recommend a floss with a woven weave to it. This means a product that when pulled taught will get between tight teeth. It will also do a great job removing food debris and plaque from between teeth more widely spaced. If you are using a floss that is too thin in wider spaced areas, flossing will not be effective. A floss that is too thin will not pick up or attract the plaque and debris it needs to. On the contrary, a floss that is too wide will not fit easily between and will discourage you from doing a good job.
Choose a floss with woven fibers for optimal ease and effectiveness. There are two great products recommended by dental professionals and both are equally easy to use and effective:
Cocofloss is a unique woven fiber floss that will surprise you. It is infused with coconut oil to give you antimicrobial properties too. This floss is a bit more expensive than other flosses but for how well it works, it more than makes up for the cost. Plus, you can use less because it will not break or shred. It is lightly coated with microcrystalline wax. Cocofloss is textured with more surface area. Hundreds of filaments create a soft, fibrous surface that is comfortable to use and very effective. Cocofloss contains no PFAs or parabens and has over 1,000 five star reviews. Users unanimously enjoy the pleasant flavors this product comes in.
Listerine Ultraclean floss is the other top pick at a lesser price. This product was formerly called REACH but it is the same great product with a new name. The product website describes their product as effective by means of flexing and stretching of shred-resistant floss. They explain their product as containing a “Micro-Groove” feature that easily slides between teeth and removes plaque.
Once you have the technique down, it is a matter of making sure to use the right product. Either of the flosses mentioned will assure your best flossing experience. There is something you may want to consider. Many manufacturers are coating their floss with a Gore-Tex or Teflon type covering to help it slide between your teeth easier. These ingredients are controversial and have raised some concern.
It may be best to make sure your floss doesn’t contain potentially harmful ingredients called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) which have been linked to adverse health conditions. In a recent article from the Department of Public Health and Environment a discussion on the safety of PFCs was outlined. A recent study found 5 common dental flosses that contain potentially harmful PFCs.
Why Do You Need to Floss?
If you are brushing but not flossing, you are putting yourself at risk of cavities, gum disease and bad breath. Without flossing, you are not removing the buildup of bacterial plaque from between your teeth. Bacterial plaque when mixed with the sugars in our diet will give off toxins leading to decay. Plaque also creates an inflammatory response which can lead to redness and bleeding of our gums. This is called gingivitis.
If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious condition called periodontitis (another name for gum disease). Bad breath is caused by the by products given off my bacteria called volatile sulfur compounds. With regular flossing, you will be removing the detrimental bacterial plaque from between which improves the health of your teeth and gums and improves bad breath.
The American Dental Association (ADA) states that floss in an essential for taking care of our teeth and gums. They note that there are more than 500 species of bacteria living in plaque which contributes to oral disease when combined with other components in our mouths such as food debris. Therefore, it is advised to clean between the teeth where brushing cannot reach.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC); 46% of people over the age of 30 have some signs of gum disease and 80% of people have experienced decay by the age of 34.
You Know ‘What Is the Proper Way to Floss Your Teeth’, What Else?
Along with knowing what is the proper way to floss your teeth, I also want you to know that you do have other options. Some people may still decide flossing is not for them. As long as you are using something to clean between your teeth, you are far ahead of the game. There are other devices such as interdental brushes (Proxabrushes), hand-held flossers and water flossers that are also very effective at cleaning between your teeth. It is recommended to clean between your teeth once per day in addition to brushing twice daily.
Whether to brush or floss first has always been a topic for debate. However, it is generally well accepted that flossing first will be most beneficial. The reason for this is the fact that cleaning between first will dislodge and remove plaque and debris which can be brushed and rinsed away. This allows for the fluoride in your toothpaste to reach these areas and help strengthen and provide protection from decay. In my opinion, it does not matter which you do first, just as long as you do both!
Science and research from the Mayo Clinic shows the connection between good oral health and overall general health of the body. Conditions such as heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease have all been connected to poor oral hygiene. Please remember that in addition to good home care habits, it is very important to visit your dentist for regular checkups. Regular care from your dentist can help you maintain a healthy mouth for a lifetime.
Studies show that people who floss live on average 6.4 years longer than those who do not floss. This may be in part due to the otherwise healthy lifestyles that flossers have. At any rate, it is no longer a secret that the health of your mouth is a direct correlation to the health of your body. So, if you want to improve your health, do all you can to improve your oral health. This includes cleaning between your teeth!
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