A man is flossing his teeth in front of a mirror

Flossing: Cleaning Between Your Teeth Helps Oral Health

You probably grew up hearing how important is to brush your teeth at least twice a day to maintain good oral health. But brushing alone won’t do the job. If you’re not flossing, you’re missing 35% of each tooth’s surface!

Flossing reaches the areas between your teeth and under the gum line—places a toothbrush can’t reach.

Why Clean Between Your Teeth

The American Dental Association recommends cleaning between your teeth daily to help prevent cavities and gum disease. Cleaning between your teeth helps remove plaque, a sticky film. Plaque contains bacteria that feeds on leftover food or sugar in your mouth. When that happens, it releases an acid that can eat away at the outer shell of your teeth and cause cavities.

When you don’t remove plaque by brushing and cleaning between your teeth, it can harden into a rough substance called tartar. Tartar collects along your gum line and can lead to gum disease. Once tartar forms, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it.

Develop a Flossing Habit

Keep in mind that cleaning between your teeth should not be painful. If you do it too hard, you could damage the tissue between your teeth. If you’re too gentle, you might not be getting the food out. It’s normal to feel some discomfort when you first start, but don’t give up. Any discomfort should ease within a week or two. If pain persists, talk to your dentist.

Try different options until you find the flossing method that works best for you. For example, dental picks might help you get to hard-to-reach places. Water flossers might be a good option if you have trouble flossing by hand or have dental work that makes flossing difficult. Stick with it and you’ll have adopted a healthy habit for life.

How to Floss

Dental floss is available in many forms. Waxed floss slides easily between teeth and, does not fray. Some are flavored to encourage flossing. Specialized plastic wands hold floss, making it easier to use. The most important difference among dental flosses is thickness.

When you visit the dentist, ask the dental hygienist to demonstrate how to floss. To make sure you do a thorough job, try to pick a time of day when you can devote an extra couple of minutes to your dental care.

  • Select the right dental floss for you. It’s important to make sure it fits properly between your teeth. If you aren’t certain, ask your dentist.
  • Loosely wrap 18 inches of dental floss around your middle fingers until you have about 2 inches left between your fingers.
  • Holding the floss firmly between your thumbs and index fingers, gently slide the floss in a “C-shape” up-and-down between your teeth, working it beneath the gum line on both sides.
  • Move to a clean section of floss and repeat until you have cleaned around each tooth.