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How to Floss Your Teeth [Tips for Kids, Braces, & More!]

How to Floss Your Teeth [Tips for Kids, Braces, & More!]

You should floss your teeth once a day using dental floss to clear plaque and food particles from between your teeth.

So… how, exactly, do you floss?

Flossing is easy. But there are a surprising number of ways you can get it wrong.

For instance, flossing too hastily can cause trauma to your gums or miss the plaque beneath your gum line.

Flossing correctly is important for dental health. When you floss between your teeth, you remove hard-to-reach interdental plaque that can turn to tartar if left unchecked. This tartar left by not flossing may result in tooth decay (cavities) or gum disease.

Let’s talk about how to floss.

How to Floss: Step-by-Step Guide

How do you floss correctly? You floss correctly by hugging each tooth with a string of dental floss and sliding up and down the sides of the tooth.

Here’s how to floss, step-by-step:

  1. Use real dental floss. There is a reason the long strings of dental floss are the standard for flossing your teeth. Floss picks, no matter how convenient, just don’t work as well. However, water flossers may have some merit — but we’ll talk about water flossers down below.
  2. Start with a piece of floss 12-18 inches long. Many people don’t use a long enough piece of floss. You need this length for stability, cleanliness, and comfort.
  3. Wrap the floss around your index finger and middle finger. One side wraps around the left fingers, the other side wraps around the right fingers.
  4. Hold the string of floss taut with your thumbs. Aim for a 1-2 inch section of floss in between your thumbs. Make a C-shape or U-shape that will hug a tooth.
  5. Gently slide the floss in between two teeth. It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you remember to get to every space. Do not snap or force the floss, which can irritate or inflame the gums.
  6. Gently rub up and down on both sides of the space between teeth. Hug each side of the tooth, one at a time, and make gentle up and down motions with the floss string. Most interdental plaque lives under the gum line, so try to floss just under that barrier.
  7. Use a new section of floss for every tooth. Every time you switch to a new space between two teeth, move to a new section of floss between your fingers so that you don’t get plaque on the floss on your tooth. Once you’ve covered the clean sections of floss, rinse the floss off with water. Now your floss is completely clean and you can continue cleaning each tooth.
  8. Don’t forget to clean the back sides of your last teeth (the molars). It’s easy to forget the ends of your back teeth, since you don’t need to slide in between to teeth to floss them.

Do you floss every tooth? Yes, you should floss in between every tooth. Daily flossing may cause inflammation or bleeding at first, but this should go away after 1-2 weeks if your flossing technique is good and your gums are getting healthier.

If your gums continue to bleed after 2 weeks of a new flossing habit, talk to your dentist or dental hygienist. This may be a sign of gum disease.

Click here to purchase Triple Bristle’s amazing mint-flavored, unwaxed dental floss. We offer free US shipping!

How to Floss with Braces

Flossing with braces requires extra care, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

If you have braces, consider using waxed dental floss or dental tape. Waxed floss is stiffer than unwaxed floss and dental tape is a bit easier to slide in between teeth and braces. A floss threader also helps guide floss in between teeth and the wires of your braces.

Water flossers remove plaque with short bursts of water and may be just as effective as regular floss, if used correctly. This can be a great alternative for flossing with braces!

To use dental floss with braces:

  1. Cut off a 16- to 24-inch section of floss. This is longer than usual for extra maneuvering ability.
  2. Thread the floss between the main wire of your braces and your teeth.
  3. Wrap each end of the floss string around your index and middle fingers.
  4. Gently slide the floss between 2 teeth, being careful not to hurt the gums.
  5. Rub the floss up and down, on each side. Don’t be afraid of gently flossing at the gum line, where a lot of dental plaque can live and fester.
  6. Remove the floss from in between the two teeth, then from in between the teeth and the wire. Don’t pop the floss out too quickly, which might knock the wire out of its bracket.
  7. Repeat the process for each tooth. A mirror should make the entire process easier.

Also, Triple Bristle’s patented triple sided toothbrush works with braces!

How to Floss with a Permanent Retainer

A permanent retainer is a small wire glued to the back of your front teeth. It may be glued to each tooth or only on the end teeth.

Flossing with a permanent retainer requires special attention. While it may take a bit more time, your teeth will thank you (by staying healthy and strong) for putting in the effort.

A floss threader can help guide the floss between teeth and your retainer.

How to floss with a permanent retainer:

  1. Cut off a 16- to 24-inch section of floss. This is longer than usual, for extra maneuvering ability.
  2. Thread the floss between your retainer and your teeth. If your retainer is glued to each tooth, you’ll need to remove and re-thread for each tooth. But if your retainer is glued to the ends only, you won’t have to re-thread the floss for every tooth.
  3. Wrap each end of the floss string around your index and middle fingers.
  4. Gently slide the floss between two teeth, being careful not to hurt the gums.
  5. Rub the floss up and down, on each side of the tooth surface. Don’t be afraid of gently flossing at the gum line, where a lot of dental plaque can live and fester.
  6. Repeat the process for each tooth. A mirror should make the entire process easier.

How to Floss Your Child’s Teeth

Generally, kids are able to floss effectively by themselves by the age of 6. But children should have their teeth flossed as soon as they have two teeth right next to one another.

Parents or caregivers should floss their child’s teeth before they’re able to understand how to effectively floss because flossing is vital to oral hygiene. This is part of developing a lifelong flossing habit.

Teach your kids:

  • How long a strip of floss should be — 12-18 inches of floss
  • How to hold the floss — between your index finger and thumb
  • How to rub the floss up and down without irritating the gums
  • How to use a clean section of floss so plaque from another tooth doesn’t get on a new tooth
  • How to get excited about flossing — be a role model, and offer some reward for flossing

How to Floss around Dental Work

Dental work may require special flossing. For instance, bridges and dentures both require special care when it comes to flossing.

How to floss bridges:

  1. A bridge is at least 3 crowns attached to each other. You still need to floss between the crowned teeth, even though you can’t slip the floss in normally.
  2. Some dentists claim that super floss is best for bridges because of the pre-cut stiff ends that allow the floss strip to be pushed in between teeth from the front, instead of from the top or bottom.
  3. Push the stiff end of the super floss in between two bridged teeth, from the front of your teeth, not from the biting surface. Floss as normal.

How to floss dentures:

  1. Full dentures do not necessarily need to be flossed because of what you soak your dentures in at night.
  2. Still, it may be helpful to floss your dentures to get large food particles out from between the teeth.
  3. When you take out your full dentures, it may be beneficial to rinse your mouth and gently massage your gums with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  4. If you have partial dentures, it is necessary to brush and floss your remaining teeth every day.

Some dental work does NOT require special flossing, just normal flossing, including:

  • Crowns, caps
  • Fillings
  • Bonding
  • Sealants
  • Implants
  • Veneers

Flossing with Gum Disease

Any time you start flossing correctly, your gums will likely bleed. This is normal at first. But your gums should get used to the floss within a week or two — if you keep at it every day.

When you have gum disease or gingivitis, bleeding gums is a common symptom. This may make flossing less comfortable.

However, flossing is necessary to prevent the further development of gum disease. In the long run, flossing will prevent gum bleeding more than it causes gum bleeding.

When flossing with gum disease, be very gentle around your gum line. Don’t force the floss in between your teeth because it might force into the gum line, causing trauma.

When should you floss?

You should floss at least once a day, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

Should you floss in the morning or at night? You should floss at night. Humans are more prone to dry mouth and developing dental disease (like gum disease) at night when we go to bed.

Flossing before bed removes plaque that may have started to form during the day. It can counteract some of the bacterial overgrowth that can happen from the mouth drying out during sleep.

Do you floss before or after brushing your teeth? You should floss before you brush your teeth. Research shows that flossing first, then brushing, removes plaque more effectively than reversing the order. It also helps toothpaste better support the remineralization of teeth.

How many times should you floss? You should floss once a day as part of your evening oral hygiene routine. You can also floss when you wake up. But make sure you aren’t inflaming your gums by flossing more than once a day unless you get a piece of food stuck that you need to remove right away.

Should you floss after certain foods? Some dentists claim that flossing after every meal is ideal, to make sure food particles don’t linger in between your teeth. As long as you are not irritating your gums (or building hatred for flossing), you may benefit from flossing after every meal.

Types of Floss

The 6 most common types of floss are:

  1. Regular floss — standard dental floss — is nylon string coiled into a small container. It may be waxed or unwaxed, both of which come with their benefits. Waxed floss slips between teeth more easily and is sturdier. However, unwaxed floss is thinner, removes plaque more effectively, and gives an audible “squeak” when the plaque is gone.
  2. Dental tape is wider than standard dental floss. Also called “wide floss”, dental tape is used very similarly to standard dental floss. Sometimes called Teflon tape, dental tape is usually made with the controversial ingredient, Teflon.
  3. Super floss has a stiff end for getting safely in between teeth and a tufted end for removing plaque buildup and food particles. Super floss often comes in pre-cut segments. It is designed to help those with braces and bridges floss more easily.
  4. Water flossers (a type of electric flosser) shoot out streams of water in little pulses. The water flosser removes interdental plaque and has a lower risk of irritating gums. Water flossers are typically easier to use for those with braces or bridges.
  5. Air flossers (the other type of electric flosser) produce short bursts of a mixture of air, water, and/or mouthwash to clean in between your teeth. This should result in a lower risk of bleeding gums and gum inflammation. Research shows air flossers are not as effective as water flossers.
  6. Disposable floss picks are at the bottom of the flossing totem pole. They are a better alternative to nothing but are less effective than standard dental floss.

What is the best type of floss? Standard dental floss is widely considered to be the best tool for cleaning in between the average tooth. However, studies show a water flosser can reduce gingivitis and gingival bleeding, as well as get rid of interdental plaque, just as or more effective than regular floss.

What should you use if you have no floss?

  • Silicone dental picks are one alternative to flossing. The soft, thin, easy-to-hold silicone tips fit in between your teeth to remove food particles, yet these picks are gentle on teeth and gums.
  • Interdental brushes are specially designed “toothbrushes” meant for cleaning in between your teeth like floss. Interdental brushes are reusable and great for individuals with joint or mobility problems who may have trouble managing dental floss.
  • Toothpicks help remove larger food particles from in between your teeth. But toothpicks do very little to remove interdental plaque. If you need to get food out of your teeth, you may make an “emergency” toothpick out of a plastic straw, folded paper, or even a strand of hair.

When to Call Your Dentist

You should call your dentist if flossing causes intense pain or bleeding. (Note: When you start flossing, it is normal for your gums to ache a little and bleed for a week or two.)

If flossing causes gum bleeding for more than 2 weeks, this may be a sign of gum disease (periodontal disease). Call your dentist for a checkup to make sure it is gingivitis — which can be cured with great oral hygiene — and not advanced periodontitis.

Of course, this is on top of your twice-a-year visit to the dentist’s office. You should see a dentist or dental hygienist every 6 months for cleaning, maintenance, prevention, and detection.

Sources

  1. Lyle, D. M. (2012). Relevance of the water flosser: 50 years of data. Compend Contin Educ Dent, 33(4), 278-280. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22536661/
  2. Kiran, S. D., Ghiya, K., Makwani, D., Bhatt, R., Patel, M., & Srivastava, M. (2018). Comparison of Plaque Removal Efficacy of a Novel Flossing Agent with the Conventional Floss: A Clinical Study. International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, 11(6), 474. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6611534/
  3. Mazhari, F., Boskabady, M., Moeintaghavi, A., & Habibi, A. (2018). The effect of toothbrushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of periodontology, 89(7), 824-832. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29741239/
  4. Sharma, N. C., Lyle, D. M., Qaqish, J. G., & Schuller, R. (2012). Comparison of two power interdental cleaning devices on plaque removal. Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 23(1), 17. Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Naresh_Sharma18/publication/221902011_Comparison_of_two_power_interdental_cleaning_devices_on_plaque_removal/links/541d09d00cf241a65a15ce3b/Comparison-of-two-power-interdental-cleaning-devices-on-plaque-removal.pdf
  5. Lyle, D. M., Qaqish, J. G., & Schuller, R. (2013). Evaluation of the plaque removal efficacy of a water flosser compared to string floss in adults after a single use. J Clin Dent, 24, 37-42. Full text: https://www.waterpik.ca/en/oral-health/pro/clinical-research/Goyal-Waterpik-vs-String-Floss-for-Plaque-Removal-2013/

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