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Flossing

Many people never learned to floss as children. But flossing is critical to healthy gums and it's never too late to start. A common rule of thumb says that any new habit becomes second nature after only three weeks. If you have questions, ask your dentist or dental hygienist to give you a lesson.

Here are a few general pointers about flossing:

  • Floss once a day. Most dentists recommend flossing at least once a day. If you tend to get food trapped between teeth, you can floss more often.
  • Take your time. Don't rush.
  • Choose your own time. Most people find that just before bed is an ideal time to floss. But it's best to find the time that's most convenient for you. That way, you are more likely to floss regularly.
  • Don't skimp on the floss. Use as much floss as you need to clean both sides of every tooth with a fresh section. In fact, you may need to floss one tooth several times (using fresh sections of floss) to remove all the food. Some professionals think that reusing sections of floss may move bacteria from one tooth to another.
  • Choose the type that works best for you. There are many types of floss: waxed and unwaxed, flavored and unflavored, ribbon and thread. Try a few before you settle on one to use every day. Waxed floss works better in people with very closely spaced teeth. Tougher, shred-resistant varieties of floss work well for people with rough tooth edges.

How to Floss

Hold the floss in whatever way you prefer. The most common method is to wind the floss around your middle fingers. Then pull it tight and guide it with your index fingers. You also can wind it around your index fingers and guide it with your thumb and middle fingers. Some people just hold the ends of the floss, or use a floss-guiding tool. (If you have a fixed bridge, a bridge threader can help guide floss under the bridge for better cleaning.)

How you hold the floss is not as important as what you do with it. If you can't settle on a good method, ask your dentist or hygienist for suggestions.

  • Hold the floss so that a short segment is ready to work with.
  • Guide the floss gently between two teeth. If the fit is tight, use a back-and-forth motion to work the floss through the narrow spot. Do not snap the floss; you could cut your gums.
  • Hold the floss around the front and back of one tooth, making it into a "C" shape. This will wrap the floss around the side edge of that tooth.
  • Gently move the floss toward the base of the tooth and into the space between the tooth and gum.
  • Move the floss up and down with light to firm pressure to skim off plaque from the tooth. Do not press so hard that you injure the gum.
  • Repeat for all sides of the tooth, including the outermost side of the last tooth. Advance the floss to a clean segment for each tooth edge.



Last updated May 7, 2014