using floss to write "floss"

How to Floss Your Teeth
4 Effective Tools & Techniques

If you've ever gone to the dentist, you know full well that your hygienist will ask if you've been flossing. Flossing is an often forgotten step to a beautiful and healthy smile. You might figure that you brush your teeth well enough and that flossing is not worth the time and effort. Other people are afraid to floss, thinking that whatever tool they use will become stuck between their teeth or pull out fillings and crowns. Knowing how to floss teeth and the right tools to use will make a world of difference in your oral care routine.

Benefits of flossing your teeth properly

Women uses flosser

The main reason you shouldn't skip on flossing your teeth is that food and other bacteria can become trapped between teeth and underneath the gum line. This bacteria isn't easy to get out with brushing alone, even if you're using an electric toothbrush. It's a misconception that an electric toothbrush gets everything out from between the teeth and under the gum line because it simply does not. You still need to floss at least once a day to remove any food, particles, and bacteria left behind.

There are a couple of flossing teeth benefits to flossing that you might not realize. For one, it'll help with reducing bad breath. You can brush and use mouthwash until the cows come home, but it's still not getting rid of the bacteria between the teeth and below the gum line. As bacteria feed on sugars and acids that you eat, it defecates, which results in a pungent and raunchy odor.

The next benefit to flossing is the ability to both reverse and prevent gingivitis. Gingivitis is an early sign of gum disease that is caused by bacteria underneath the gum line, resulting in inflamed, red and often bleeding gums. If your teeth bleed when you brush them, flossing can reduce the likelihood of this recurring.

Third, flossing can keep decay away. By scraping off the bacteria between the teeth, it won't have a chance to eat away at the enamel and underlying dentin, which would otherwise result in a pretty nasty cavity.

Tools for flossing your teeth properly

flossing sticks in glas

If you're beginning to realize how important it is to floss, your next concern is going to be the type of tool that you use. Oftentimes, people forgo flossing because they had a bad experience in the past and are now either afraid to floss or find it to be too bothersome. Experiment with different flossing options and find the one you feel is most comfortable to use. Below is a list of some of the tools you can use:

  • String Floss (Both Waxed and Regular) - The most common tool to floss with is good old-fashioned string floss. This comes in a small box with a tiny circular blade on top, making it easy for you to pull the string off of the internal roll and cut it at the length you desire. String floss comes in both waxed and non-waxed formulas. Wax string floss is often easier to use because it is made to glide effortlessly between teeth. You can purchase unflavored and flavored string floss, with most flavors being peppermint or cinnamon-infused.
  • Interdental Brushes - Interdental brushes have cone-shaped bristles on a small stick. The brush is designed to be pushed between the teeth at any angle you find comfortable. Most of the sticks are flexible, but some come rigid for more precise insertion. Interdental brushes reduce any chance of string being caught between the teeth because you go through one side of the tooth at a time. The bristles can be made with silicone or nylon. Some brushes are disposable and others can be washed and reused several times.
  • Water Flossing - There is a lot of debate in the dental community on whether or not water flossing is equivalent to string floss or interdental brushes. Water flossing cannot curve between the tooth-like string or a brush would, instead it shoots high-pressured water between the teeth to get most of the bacteria. If you have a reluctance to floss because you've had issues in the past of it getting stuck or being painful, water flossing is a relatively beneficial alternative. The machines can range in price from being inexpensive to rather costly, but they all work the same. You fill the tank with water, choose the pressure setting and then place the mouthpiece in your mouth to aim the water between the teeth.
  • Dental/Floss Picks - Dental picks look similar to interdental brushes but without the bristles. These are often used to try to dislodge food from between the teeth, but some people choose to floss with floss picks. Because they do not have bristles on them, you're only relying on a slight scraping motion to get rid of bacteria, which might not be enough to be deemed proper flossing.

3 techniques how to floss your teeth

The first step in flossing is knowing how to floss teeth properly so that it won't get stuck between your teeth or pop out a filling.

If you're using string floss, you'll want to pull out roughly 8 to 10 inches of string. This allows you to twist the string around your middle fingers and use your index fingers to glide the floss between each tooth. You want to get the floss between the tooth so that it comes into contact with the gum and the lowest part of the crown. Using sweeping motions, you will scrape between the area, being careful not to cut directly into the gum. When you're done, you'll pull the floss out through the tooth at the gum line rather than trying to jimmy it back up between the teeth. This last step for those wondering how to floss teeth is what prevents crowns and fillings from popping out.

If you're using an interdental brush, you will use the brush to gently scrape between the teeth from one side and then work on the inside of the tooth to get it from a different angle.

For water flossing, you'll want to use the highest pressure setting that is comfortable for you and aim the mouth tool between each tooth. You should feel the water going through the space between the tooth to ensure you're using it correctly.

Flossing Methods for Special Dental Needs

flossing teeth with mouthwash braces

There are times when typical floss just won't work. String floss is still the most preferred flossing method by dental professionals worldwide, which is why you get your teeth flossed with string at the end of each dental cleaning. However, if you have braces, sensitive gums or if you have a child who you want to get into a solid flossing routine, other tools are better equipped to get the job done. For individuals with braces, interdental brushes and water flossing work perfectly. For kids, their teeth are often spaced far enough apart that a small interdental brush or thin string floss should be sufficient. For individuals with sensitive gums, water flossing is by far the best method because the cool water soothes the gums while washing away bacteria.

Other Ways to Reduce Dental Bacteria

Along with getting yourself into a good flossing routine with the proper flossing technique, there are other ways to reduce bacteria in your mouth that can lead to tooth decay, bad breath, and gingivitis. These techniques include brushing at least twice a day with a high-quality electric toothbrush, using an antiseptic mouthwash and avoiding sugary foods and drinks. Remember that the bacteria in your mouth love to feed off of acid, so the fewer acidic foods you consume, the healthier your mouth will be.

After spending a lifetime of not flossing, it can definitely be tough to get into a routine where you're doing it once a day and know how to floss teeth. If it helps, you can try to start by flossing once a week and then gradually increase it to where it's being done daily at your own convenience.

For kids, the sooner you get them in the hang of flossing, the better off they'll be. Teaching kids how to pull and twist floss, how to floss back teeth and then maneuver it between teeth can feel like a losing battle, so many parents start out with interdental brushes and water flossing. Whatever you choose for your family's teeth and your own, your next dental checkup will go much easier if you get into the habit of flossing.