Profiles in Dentistry

Proper techniques for flossing your teeth for optimum oral health

Flossing your teeth every day removes food particles, plaque, and debris that brushing can’t reach. This helps you keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. Additionally, flossing can help you avoid bad breath.

Holding the dental floss

Break off about 18 to 24 in (46 to 61 cm) of dental floss. You need a long strand so that it’s easy to grip. Additionally, you’ll use a fresh section of floss when you switch teeth, so it’s helpful to start with a long piece of floss.

Wrap the ends of the piece of floss around your middle fingers. Make several loose wraps around each of your middle fingers until the floss pulls taut. The wrap should feel loose and comfortable around your fingers.

Cleaning your teeth

Start at the top center, then do each side. Make a habit of always starting at your two front teeth. Then, do each side of your mouth individually to complete the top row. Always do the same side first so that it becomes a regular.

Curve the floss into a c-shape around your tooth. This will help you get the side of your tooth as clean as possible. Work the floss up and down your tooth, dipping below your gum line when you reach the bottom of your tooth. Make eight to 10 strokes with the floss on each side of the tooth.

Move to a new section of floss for each tooth. Shift your fingers down the floss so that the section between them is fresh.

Don’t forget the backs of your rear molars. Gum disease and tooth decay frequently occur on the back teeth because they’re harder to reach.

After you floss

Rinse out your mouth to help remove any stray particles that remain in your mouth. Using a germicidal mouthwash destroys almost any trace of bacteria and creates a protective barrier around your gums and teeth that have been flossed. Similarly, a fluoridated mouthwash provides additional cavity protection.

Maintaining good oral health

You only need to floss once a day, and it’s best to avoid over-flossing, which can damage your gums. It’s best to floss at night when you brush your teeth before bed. This way, food particles and plaque don’t sit on your teeth all night.

Variation: You might prefer to floss after you brush instead to remove any plaque or debris that remains. If you want to floss your teeth after you brush, that’s okay. You’ll still enjoy the benefits of flossing.

Other flossing options

Flossing is very important for your oral health, so it’s important that you do it every day. If using floss is difficult, you may be able to find a product that works better for you than floss. Try the following:

Floss holders, which are small Y-shaped sticks that hold floss, may help if you’re struggling to hold the floss.

“Superfloss,” which expands in larger spaces and contracts to fit through smaller spaces, might help if you have wide gaps between some of your teeth.

Floss threaders make it easier for you to clean around dental work.

A water flosser sprays your teeth with water to help remove extra debris, but it’s not a substitute for flossing.

Tip: You may experience some bleeding in your gums. This is totally normal when you first start flossing and should go away after a few days. If your gums are still bleeding after three to five days of consistent flossing, then it’s best to see your dentist to make sure your gums are healthy. It’s likely that nothing is wrong, but it’s best to make sure.

Cristian Macau, DDS, co-authored this article for WikiHow. Macau is an oral surgeon, periodontist, and aesthetician at Favero Dental Clinic in London. He received his DDS from Carol Davila University of Medicine in Bucharest, Romania, in 2015.

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