How To Floss Properly – A Quick Guide

As discussed in the previous page, the benefits of flossing are clear. If you don’t clean interdentally (i.e. between your teeth) you are at high risk of developing the major oral diseases. So let’s take a look at the practicalities!

Like all new skills, learning how to floss between your teeth can take some time and practice. In the beginning you may feel ‘all-fingers-and-thumbs’, and you may find it to be quite time-consuming.  But you will soon get the hang of it if you persist.  Here are some tips:


Image of lady holding a length of dental floss

The Best Way To Floss

Developing a good technique is key in terms of how well you clean, and how efficient the process becomes!

  1. Take about 18 inches of the thread (quite a lot!). Wrap most of the length up using the middle finger of one hand. Leave about an inch of dental floss to use, by wrapping the remaining thread around the middle finger on your other hand – As in the image adjacent…
  2. Make this inch taut by using the index fingers and thumbs.
  3. It does not matter where you start, but stick to a routine and go between each tooth in turn. Therefore you are less likely to miss any areas.
  4. Now, gently slide the thread between the teeth. Do not try to force it.
  5. Gently press the floss down to the gum. Stop when you feel some resistance. The aim is now to clean the surfaces of BOTH of the teeth in each space. Do this by holding it against one surface and at the same time pulling it out away from the gum. Then do the same for the other tooth.
  6. This movement up away from the gum will scrape the plaque and debris of each tooth surface.
  7. For each gap, use a fresh length of material by passing it along between the middle fingers.
  8. Include the back surfaces of the very back teeth.

Wondering to floss before or after brushing? Best to brush afterwards, as this allows the fluoride in the toothpaste to better penetrate into the spaces that have been cleared by flossing.

How often to floss? Ideally, twice daily, before you brush. But once a day is sufficient (according to the ADA) and will help ensure healthy teeth, when done as part of your daily oral hygiene routine.

Flossing should be a comfortable exercise. If you feel any pain when doing so, you are likely applying to much force. Go gently, using feeling from the gums as a guide.

Dental hygiene Afro-American girl with dental flossIf you notice bleeding gums, this is usually a sign of gingivitis (gum disease). It should clear up after a week or so of proper interdental cleaning. If it persists, contact your dentist.

You may have seen actors in movies/TV aggressively flossing using a fast, sawing motion between the teeth. Not only is this not very effective as it doesn’t actually remove the plaque, but it can also hurt your gums.

In order to check how well you are flossing, i.e. if you are removing all the plaque, use disclosing tablets every so often. These will stain any areas where plaque remains after clean. You can then learn where you need to spend more time cleaning.


How To Floss With Alternative Tools

Using traditional string floss is not the only option for interdental cleaning. We go in to more detail on the alternatives in the previous page. But here are some quick tips.

The areas around crowns and under bridges and implants need particular care. There are special types of floss that come with ‘threaders’ (see image). These threaders enable you to feed the floss under a bridge. Ask your dentist/hygienist for advice.

Oral B Crest Glide Floss threader

A threader like this from Oral B is essential for cleaning under bridges and retainers

Flossing with braces or permanent retainers is also pretty much impossible with traditional methods. Again, threaders can be useful. Other possible tools include interdental brushes (like the Tepe variety pictured), ‘floss picks’, or using an ‘electric’ flosser like a Waterpik (click here for more info on this). Where there are large spaces or gaps between the teeth (as a result of periodontal disease and/or receding gums), using string/tape may be inefficient. Again, the brushes pictured or a water flosser may be ideal.

Tepe Interdental Brushes

Interdental brushes like these from TePe are great for braces, or where there are large gaps, eg as a result of gum recession

Floss holders can be very useful for those who struggle with traditional string.

EZ Floss

This Ezy holder is a popular product. Great for those with dexterity issues. Re-usable so greener than disposable holders

Now you know how to floss, return to our main page on flossing (for advice on how important it is, more examples of alternatives and which you should be using).


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