Proper Flossing

30 November 2023

The least popular part of most patients’ oral hygiene regime and certainly the one that causes most people some difficulty. So, is it that important? What happens if you don’t floss and is there an easier way to do it?

Tooth brushing only cleans around 75% of the tooth surface. The other 25% is the surface between the teeth where the toothbrush bristles can’t reach. If you leave this part of the tooth uncleaned it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria feeding off the food particles left behind. With time, this can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, chronic inflammation, and bad breath.

Most people use the term floss to describe cleaning between their teeth but floss is just one way of getting those hard-to-reach areas clean. Where the spaces between your teeth are quite tight, floss will be the only option but where the spaces are bigger (often towards the back of the mouth), alternative options for cleaning become available.Dental floss is available in either waxed or unwaxed versions. Most people find the waxed version easier to use because it glides between the teeth more easily and is less likely to shred or leave loose threads behind.

So How Do We Use Dental Floss Effectively?

ike all cleaning aids, using the right technique is important to ensure your efforts aren’t wasted. Different version of floss are available for cleaning implants and bridges. Your dental professional will show you how to use these. For the most effective flossing technique, follow these simple steps:

  • Remove a section of floss about the length of your forearm.
  • Wrap the ends of the floss around one finger on each hand until you have a section about 2cm long left between each hand.
  • Pull the floss tight, then placing one hand either side of the tooth, lower the floss until it’s seated just over the top of the interdental space.
  • Using a gentle side to side motion, guide the floss down between the tight contact point where the teeth meet. Keeping the floss tight will make it easier to pass through and will avoid it snapping through.
  • Once through the contact point and keeping the floss tight, gently slide it down to the gum line and curl it into a C-shape against the tooth.
  • Keeping the floss in tight contact with the tooth, gently rub it up and down making sure it goes underneath the gum line until you feel resistance. Take it up and down a few times taking care now to saw. When ready, repeat the action on the other side of the gap before using the same side to side action to gently ease the floss back through the tight contact point and out again. Be careful not to pull hard to remove the floss, it needs easing out with the same control you used to get it in.
  • When first learning how to floss, start with your front teeth which are easier to access and gradually work towards the back ones as you become more skilled.
  • Move onto a fresh part of floss each time you move tooth. Try to keep track of the teeth you have flossed. It’s better to start on one side and work systematically across to the other to avoid missing any.
  • Take care not to be too aggressive. A firm but gentle approach is all that is required to dislodge the plaque.

If you find access difficult with floss, you could try using a ‘flossette’ which holds a small piece of floss in a plastic fork. There are also various ‘floss threaders’ available that help by feeding the floss through the gap avoiding the need for it to be passed through the tight contact point. Ask your dental professional to show you how to use these.

Other interdental aids such as interdental brushes, dental sticks and water flossers provide good alternatives to flossing where the space is wide enough for access. Which ever aid you choose to use, it should fill the space without being forced.

It’s important to note that you won’t always see debris being dislodged when you clean between your teeth because the bacteria isn’t visible to the naked eye. The idea is that you dislodge the bacteria before it’s had time to develop into thicker, more visible plaque. If you can see it, it’s been there too long.

Like all new skills, flossing can take time to get used to but it’s worth persevering. Once you’ve mastered the technique it will be a quick and easy addition to your daily oral hygiene routine and you will reap the benefits for many years to come.