Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
According to CDC, only around 37% of Americans floss regularly at least once daily. Most Americans know about brushing our teeth twice a day, and visiting the dentist for at least twice a year (once every six months). But the awareness surrounding flossing is still relatively low.
Below, we will discuss some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding flossing.
Unfortunately, hard evidence supporting the benefits of flossing is still fairly limited.
In 2008, a review of the existing medical research on flossing and its benefits suggested that there’s no sufficient evidence that flossing does prevent cavities and gum disease. However, a more recent review of the same research in 2011 concluded that flossing can reduce risks of gingivitis (gum inflammation), albeit modestly.
In general, most experts and dental professionals tend to agree that brushing is more important than flossing, and is the most important activity in preventing tooth decay, gum disease, and other potential oral health issues.
However, even with the lack of hard evidence, many experts still agree that any forms of cleaning activity for the spaces between your teeth (including flossing), can be helpful in preventing plaque and bacterial buildup. This is especially true if the gaps between your teeth are relatively big (so they tend to hold more food particles).
To summarize, simply try flossing (properly), if you usually dislodge huge chunks of food particles when you floss, then it’s a good sign that you are benefitting from flossing.
It is, however, important to note that the same review from 2011, discussed above, also found that some people damaged their gums by flossing too hard. Thus, using the right flossing technique is very important, as we will discuss below.
Remember that the purpose of flossing is to clean the spaces between your teeth, and also the tight spaces just under the gum line. Food particles that are left in these spaces can cause gingivitis (gum inflammation), and tooth decay.
As discussed above, the right flossing technique is very important so you don’t damage your gums and teeth surfaces in the process:
Break off and wind around 18 inches (around 45.7 centimeters) around either your index finger or middle finger of one hand. You can use either finger according to your preference, but you will need to wind another small amount of the floss onto the same finger of the other hand.
The other finger should be free to manipulate the floss. If you are using your index finger to wind the floss, then you can use the middle finger to control the floss and vice versa. In general, you’d want enough clean segment in place as you switch between tooth to tooth.
Leave one or two-inch length in between and use your thumbs to control your floss between your upper teeth.
Similarly, keep another one or two-inch length of floss between the two fingers, and use the other free fingers to control the flossing movement between your lower teeth’s contacts.
Manipulate the floss between your teeth using a zig-zag motion. Be gentle and be very careful not to snap the floss between teeth. Control the floss around the side of the tooth by making a C-shape motion with the floss to wrap around each tooth.
Slide the floss carefully with an up and down motion just under the gum line, against the tooth’s contact and surface. Don’t forget the back areas of each tooth, and unwind a fress floss from your finger to move from one tooth to the next. Use your thumb as a guide to control this motion.
Don’t forget to wash your hands before and after flossing, and make sure to use a clean floss each time.
In general, it doesn’t really matter if you floss or brush first. What matters is to use the right technique and do a thorough cleaning.
Above, we have mentioned that daily flossing is a beneficial activity to prevent plaque buildup. However, flossing might be too painful for some people, even after they’ve used the perfect technique. Some flossing products can help with this and can provide an easier and relatively painless flossing experience.
If you find it hard to floss properly and keep damaging/bleeding your gums, you can use various interdental cleaning alternatives like pre-threaded flosser, a water flosser, dental pick, silicone plaque remover, and others.
Here are some specialized flossing alternatives that might help with some conditions:
If you find it hard to use the right flossing technique. You might want to try an electric, motorized flosser. Electric flossing will also provide you with an easier time to reach the back of your mouth and can provide just the right amount of pressure to stimulate your gums (leaving a pleasing sensation after the flossing activity).
If you wear dental braces. If you have dentures or wear braces, ask your dentist for a specialized floss to assist you. Typically this specialized floss features a stiffer end that you can glide just under the main wire of your dental braces and might also feature a softer, spongy component that can easily slide between the teeth.
For sensitive gums. If your gums bleed easily and if you have sensitive teeth, use softer floss so it can easily slide between the teeth.
For toddlers and children. You can help your child to floss their teeth as soon as the child has 2 teeth that touch together (around age 2 or 3). You can start teaching children to floss their teeth independently around age 5 to 7.
Back to the first question: Do I really need to floss your teeth? Is interdental cleaning even necessary? Although there is no hard evidence, most experts agree that proper flossing can effectively clean the spaces between your teeth, prevent plaque and bacterial buildup, and reduce risks of gingivitis and gum infections.
However, it’s very important to use proper flossing technique since flossing too hard—among other flossing mistakes— can damage and even bleed your gums. Floss regularly at least once a day, use the right floss according to your needs, and use the right method.
Andrea Galick is an accomplished Dental Hygienist (RDH) with a passion for helping patients achieve optimal oral health. Andrea has built a reputation as a caring and skilled practitioner who puts her patients at ease and provides individualized care that meets their unique needs.