How to Floss Your Teeth Like a Pro

How to Floss Your Teeth Like a Pro

Along with brushing your teeth, flossing is a basic essential to achieving and maintaining oral health. However — like brushing — most people assume they’re doing it correctly. But in order to get the full benefits of flossing, there’s a certain technique to follow — not to mention that some circumstances can add challenges, such as flossing around dental bridges or wire braces. Then there’s the matter of choosing the right type of floss for your particular needs. Or is a water flosser more effective than string floss?

Like the old saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing right! And as we assume you visit your dentist every six months for an examination and cleaning, you want to be sure to follow up with the best possible proactive care to minimize plaque and promote healthy gums between appointments.

Why Do You Need to Floss?

Whether you’ve been flossing faithfully for years or still need convincing, a brief recap is in order! As our blog post — “Is Flossing Really Necessary?” — covers, “Flossing has many benefits for your teeth and gums, especially when it comes to removing plaque and preventing plaque buildup … If left untreated, plaque can lead to tartar, a hard substance that only your dentist can remove. Left untreated, tartar can lead to gingivitis, progressing to periodontal disease. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to serious health issues, such as heart disease. It can also lead to tooth decay, tooth loss and bone loss.”

Other benefits of flossing include:

  • Fewer cavities.
  • Better overall oral health (less likely to lose teeth to periodontal disease).
  • Fresher breath.
  • Spending less on dental work.

Proper Flossing Technique

Healthline provides this step-by-step guide to flossing your teeth correctly:

  • Break off approximately 18 to 24 inches of dental floss. To hold the floss correctly, wind most of the floss around both of your middle fingers. Leave only about one to two inches of floss for your teeth.
  • Use your index fingers and thumb to hold the floss taut.
  • Place the floss in between two teeth and glide the floss up and down gently. Rub the floss against both sides of your teeth, but refrain from sliding it into your gums, as it can bruise or scratch your gums. 
  • As the dental floss reaches your gums, make sure to curve it at the base of your tooth to create a C-shape. This will allow the floss to enter the area between your gums and your tooth.
  • Repeat the steps as you move from tooth to tooth. With each tooth, use a new, clean section of floss.

How to Use a Floss Threader

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. However, flossing can be difficult if you have orthodontic devices such as braces, a bridge, or a permanent retainer. Not only is it challenging to clean such areas, but braces and other dental devices can fray the floss, causing you to start over. Luckily, floss threaders can help! These useful tools are loops of thin plastic that allow you to clean areas of your gums and teeth that are difficult to reach or impossible to access with floss alone. They’re disposable, work with any regular floss, and are easy to find online or at any store with a dental section.

Here’s how to master the technique of using a floss threader, courtesy of Colgate:

  • Break off between 12 to 18 inches of floss.
  • Run about five inches of one end of the floss through the loop of the threader.
  • Run the floss threader through your dental appliance and into a gap between your teeth.
  • Remove the loop of the threader and floss normally. Press the floss into your gumline, form it into a C-shape, and run it gently up and down the sides of both teeth.
  • Repeat for each tooth, including the outside of your back teeth.
  • Discard the threader after use.

The process may seem challenging at first but it will get better with practice. Cleaning between your teeth is important and with time, floss threaders can become your best friend!

How to Floss with Braces

Flossing with braces can be more time-consuming and tricky. Floss for at least 10 to 15 minutes if you are using regular floss. Waxed floss is recommended, as it is less likely to get stuck in your braces and tear.

Healthline offers the following flossing instructions for people with braces:

  • Break off about 18 to 24 inches of waxed dental floss.
  • Stand in front of a mirror so you can make sure the floss is going where you need it to.
  • Start by threading the floss between your teeth and the main wire. Twist the loose ends of the floss around your index fingers so you can move the floss around easily.
  • Press the floss between the two teeth as gently as you can. Then, move the floss up and down along the sides of both teeth.
  • When working on your top teeth, try to make an upside-down U with the floss. To do this, go up the side of one tooth until you get to the gumline. Then, glide the floss down the side of the other tooth.
  • Gently remove the floss and carefully unthread it from behind the wire. Avoid popping the floss out of your tooth, as you could dislodge a wire.
  • Move on to the next two teeth, and use the same technique until you’ve flossed between all your teeth.

If you don’t want to use waxed floss, other options include a floss threader or water flosser, as these help people with braces to floss more easily.

Types of Dental Floss — Which is Best for You?

There are many types of dental floss available, and there is no one particular floss that will suit everyone. You may even need more than one type of floss. Let’s look at the various types so you’ll be a better-informed consumer and make the right choice when you shop. This list is provided courtesy of Bateson Dentistry:

Thread floss — Thread floss is made from nylon and works the same way as other dental flosses. It is easy to use and easy to glide in between the teeth.

Waxed and unwaxed floss — Dental floss comes waxed and unwaxed. Unwaxed floss is made of about 35 strands of nylon twisted together. Waxed floss is also made from nylon and covered with a light wax coating.

Some people prefer the unwaxed variety, as it absorbs food particles better. Unwaxed floss fits easily into tight spaces. However, if your teeth are close together, this type of dental floss tends to break and fray along the edges. The waxed variety of dental floss tends to glide through the teeth better. Waxed floss is less likely to get stuck between the teeth or get caught on rough edges. It also doesn’t fray or break as quickly as unwaxed dental floss. The downside is that the wax makes the floss a little thicker. Therefore, if your teeth are close together, you may prefer to use unwaxed dental floss.

Flavored and unflavored floss — If you love the fresh minty flavor of your favorite toothpaste, you can get the same in dental floss as well. A mint flavor leaves a pleasantly fresh, clean taste in the mouth. You could try a flavor like cinnamon or even a floss coated in fluoride. If you find it hard to get your children into the habit of flossing their teeth, then flavored flosses are the way to go.

Dental tape or tape floss — If you have widely spaced teeth, there is something for you as well. Tape floss — also known as dental tape — is thicker and broader than conventional dental floss and doesn’t easily fray or break. It gives you the feeling of getting into both sides of a tooth where you have larger gaps in between.

Super flosses — These types of dental floss are made from a yarn-like material. It’s used to clean around braces or dental bridges. Because it has stiffer sections on each end, this type of floss stands up to the rigors of flossing between those complex spaces when wearing braces or dental bridges.

PTFE floss — PTFE stands for polytetrafluorethylene, and is the same material used in the high-tech Gore-Tex fabric. It slides between your teeth with ease. It’s perfect for those who have a challenging tooth formation or crowded teeth. Because perfluorooctanoic acid is a suspected carcinogen, you might want to consult your dentist before using PTFE floss.

Biodegradable and natural floss — If you’re concerned about the environment, you can buy floss packaged in glass bottles that can be reused and recycled. You can also buy floss made from silk and waxed with plant-derived vegan candelilla wax — it’s also biodegradable.

Can a Water Flosser Replace Thread Floss?

Also known as oral irrigation systems, water flossers provide a high-tech method of cleaning between teeth and around the gumline to help prevent cavities and periodontal disease. Despite the increasing popularity of such devices, there are some questions about their use and effectiveness. Our blog post — “The Pros and Cons of Water Flossers” — covers this topic in detail.

Water flossers are especially beneficial to those wearing traditional metal braces. The gentle water stream gets behind and in-between the metal wires and effectively flushes out food particles and bacteria. They are also well-suited for people with arthritis who may have difficulty wrapping string floss around their fingers and maneuvering it between teeth.

Healthline notes that a water flosser may be an attractive choice for people with non-removable bridgework, crowns, and dental implants. The pulsing water is gentle on gums so as to prevent or reduce bleeding, and gets into hard-to-reach areas, such as tightly spaced teeth and periodontal pockets caused by gum disease.

However, many dentists believe that a water flosser alone isn’t enough to prevent cavities and periodontal disease.

“Keep in mind that water flossers are only an adjunct to brushing and flossing,” says Dr. Daniel Florian, DMD, of Royalton Dental Associates, North Royalton, OH. “If you only use water flossers and don’t floss you can still get cavities in between your teeth. You need to break the contact between your teeth with floss. I recommend hand flossing first to get the food debris out, then brushing to remove stain and plaque, and then water flossing to finish the clean.”

The Take-Home Message

Now that you know the right way to floss according to your particular needs, you’ll do an even better job in maintaining your oral — and by extension your overall — health! Of course, your dentist is your partner in keeping your teeth and gums healthy for life. At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.

Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.

We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.

We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!

Schedule your visit through ZocDoc, or contact us directly. We look forward to treating you soon!


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