Flossing 101: Best Practices (and What You Should Never Do)


If you’ve ever sat in a dentist’s chair, you already know that flossing is important. It’s one of the most commonly recommended at-home dental care tips, and for good reason. Flossing is a great way to promote healthier gums and stronger teeth, but it’s one of the least favorite oral hygiene routines. Only 30 percent of Americans have a regular flossing routine—and even those that do floss aren’t always doing it correctly. Before we get into what you should (and what you shouldn’t) do, let’s talk about the basic benefits of flossing.

Why Should I Floss?

Flossing is one of the best things that you can do to keep your mouth healthy. There are millions of bacteria in your mouth at any given moment—and while bacteria can be helpful, there are plenty of unhelpful bacteria that are happy to linger as long as you’ll let them. When food particles are trapped between your teeth, harmful bacteria have the perfect environment to grow and multiply rapidly, contributing to tooth decay and cavities.

You might be thinking, “Well, what about brushing? I brush my teeth twice a day—isn’t that good enough?” While brushing your teeth should always be part of your oral hygiene routine, brushing alone isn’t enough to keep your mouth healthy. Flossing helps break up plaque that collects along your gum line, protecting against tartar buildup (hardened plaque that can only be removed by your dentist) and periodontal disease. Brushing should always be accompanied by flossing for maximum oral health—which brings us to the best flossing methods.

Best Practices for Flossing

Many people avoid flossing because they have had negative experiences: their gums might bleed, or it could feel uncomfortable or even painful. And in some cases, flossing might just seem like an extra step that takes too much time. If you are flossing correctly, you should be able to clean your teeth quickly, effectively, and without pain. Here’s how to properly floss:

  • Floss before you brush your teeth to get hard-to-reach food debris and loosen plaque
  • Cut off at least 12 inches to give yourself enough room to comfortably move the floss around your teeth
  • Hold the floss firmly between your thumb and forefinger and move up and down between each tooth
  • Be gentle when working against your gums; gently curve the floss into a C shape to cup the base of each tooth
  • Use a new section of floss for each space between teeth

Never Floss with Household Items

A 2017 study uncovered some incredibly unusual—and creative—flossing habits. Americans are often using anything but dentist-recommended flossing devices, ranging from their fingernails and strands of hair to cutlery and safety pins. Not only are these items unsanitary, but they could be causing damage to your teeth and gums. Toothpicks, knives, or other hard objects can wear away at your enamel or scratch your gums, causing irritation. If that irritation leads to a cut, your gums could even become infected.

You should only use flossing tools that have the ADA seal of approval. Dentist-approved flossing tools are designed to safely and effectively remove food and plaque. When used properly, dental picks, interdental brushes, string floss, and water flossing devices are the best methods to keep your mouth healthy and clean.

Find Out More Today

Have a question about what kind of flossing tool is best for you? Want to get more guidance on the right flossing techniques? Call our office to make your next appointment! We’ll be happy to walk you through the process and recommend our favorite floss, interdental brushes, dental picks, or water flossing devices.

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