You are probably familiar with dental floss. It is used to remove plaque from between teeth and at the gumline. Plaque is a sticky material containing germs that accumulates on teeth and can lead to gum disease (periodontal disease), and in extreme cases, permanent tooth loss.
The best way to get rid of plaque is to brush twice a day and floss your teeth at least once a day. While the toothbrush cleans the tops and sides of your teeth, dental floss cleans in between them.
The Academy of General Dentistry recommends flossing at least once a day, for 2-3 minutes. Using dental floss does more than clean between your teeth.
Flossing helps you in different ways. You may not be aware of them, but in addition to cleaning between your teeth, flossing also:
- Polishes tooth surfaces
- Controls bad breath
- Increases the chances of keeping your teeth for a lifetime
Flossing your teeth is a simple process that takes very little time. Doing it correctly will make it even easier.
Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to floss your teeth quickly and without thinking about it. Here are some steps to help you along:
- Break off about 18 inches of floss, and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the rest around the middle finger of your other hand.
- Pinch floss between the thumb and index finger of each hand, leaving about one inch of floss between your two hands.
- Pull the floss taut and use a gentle sawing motion to insert it between two teeth.
- When the floss reaches the tip of the triangular gum flap, curve the floss into a C shape against one of the teeth. Then slide the floss gently into the space between the tooth and the gum until you feel resistance.
- Holding the floss tightly against the tooth, scrape up and down five or six times along the side of the tooth and under the gumline.
- Without removing the floss, curve it around the adjacent tooth and scrape that one too.
- Floss each tooth thoroughly with a clean section of floss. A turn of each middle finger brings out a fresh section of floss.
- After flossing, rinse well with water.
If you still have trouble, there are other ways to get your daily flossing.
A pre-threaded flosser or floss holder may be helpful for some people, including:
- People just learning to floss
- People with limited dexterity
- People with permanently attached retainers or bridge work
- Caretakers who are flossing someone else's teeth
Flossing your teeth every day is the most important thing you can do to protect against plaque. Invest in the 2-3 minutes a day. It will be well worth your time.
Flossing. American Dental Association Healthy Mouth website. Available at: . Accessed December 7, 2012.
Keep Your Healthy Smile. American Dental Association website. Available at: . Accessed December 7, 2012.
Proper flossing. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association website. Available at:
. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Should I floss?. Academy of General Dentistry. Know Your Teeth website.. Available at:
. Updated February 2007. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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