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Flossing: History, Benefits, Types, And Proper Way | Hawaii Family Dental

Written by Danica Lacson on September 28, 2018

What is Flossing?

Flossing is the use of a cord to remove food and dental plaque stuck between teeth and in areas unreachable by brushing.

The progression of time witnessed the production of a variety of dental flosses including waxed, unwaxed monofilaments, and multifilament. There is not much difference between the types of dental floss, and most are usually disposable.

Aside from the traditional string floss, alternatives have also emerged to give more options to people who may not be comfortable in using the string type.

What can I use to Floss?

Traditional String Floss

One of the most common and extensively used options is traditional string floss. Although many are not fond of this method, it is one of the cheapest and readily available dental floss.

How to floss using a String Floss

According to ADA, proper flossing with a traditional string floss involves:

  • Winding 18 to 20 inches of the string around the middle finger of both hands.
  • Tightly pressing the floss between the index fingers and thumbs with about one to two inches gap in between. Use the thumb to direct the string between the teeth, while the index fingers between the contacts of the lower teeth.
  • Gliding the string in a zigzag motion between the teeth.
  • Binding the floss around the side of each tooth, while ensuring that the string will not snap between the teeth.
  • Sliding the floss up below the gum line with gentle up and down movements against the surface of the tooth.

It is recommended that the clean section of the dental floss be used for each tooth to prevent the transfer of bacteria while flossing.

Interdental Brushes

For people who detest the traditional string floss, but inclined in keeping bacteria and food particles away from their teeth especially between them, the interdental brush is an option.

An interdental brush is also known as an interproximal brush. It is a small brush typically equipped with a reusable angled plastic or an integral handle.

It is used to clean between the teeth, and especially recommended to those under orthodontic treatment as the brush can remove unwanted particles between the dental wires.

An interdental brush is inserted from the side of the space formed by the gums, and two teeth called an interdental triangle. The brush may come in I-shaped and L-shaped. An I-shaped interdental brush is used for the front teeth and can be bent at a desired angle by curving the plastic tip, depending on the user’s teeth condition. An extension cap can also be attached to reach the back teeth using an I-shaped brush.

On the one hand, the recommended interdental brush for the back teeth is the L-shaped brush which is at a fixed angle.

How to floss using Interdental Brush

To use an interdental brush, follow these steps:

  • Using water, paste, or gel, lubricate the interdental brush
  • Holding it like a pencil (or however you are comfortable), begin on the top rear, working your way around.
  • Carefully slide the brush’s tip into the interdental triangle
  • Move the brush back and forth along the surface of the tooth for about two to three times by angling it to clean both sides of a tooth
  • Rinse the mouth with warm water. Also, make sure to wash the brush with warm water to sterilize it.

Oral Irrigator

If the string floss and interdental brush do not suit your preference, you can opt for an oral irrigator.

It was first developed in 1962 by Colorado-based dentist Gerald Moyer and engineer John Mattingly, leading to the establishment of Water Pik, Inc.

An oral irrigator is described as a home dental care device that uses a stream of pulsating water in removing plaque and food particles between the teeth. It is also useful in cleaning below the gum line, improving gingival health.

How to floss using an Oral Irrigator

Below are the steps on how to use an oral irrigator:

  • First, fill the reservoir with warm water, and place it on the device’s base.
  • Attach the right tip to the handle, and begin with little pressure control before working your way up to medium pressure
  • Place the tip inside the mouth, then turn it on.
  • Clean on and around the back teeth of the upper region first, aiming the tip at a 90-degree angle above the gum line.
  • After the back teeth, work your way towards the front, giving attention to each tooth and repeating it on the bottom teeth.

Which is better: String, Interdental Brush, and Oral Irrigator

Choosing between the three options can be tricky as each has its advantages and disadvantages. Also, it may depend on an individual’s preference, need, and how much money it’s willing to pull out for a dental floss.

A traditional string floss fits between the tightest spaces easily without a need for lubricant. Chances of damaging the soft tissues are also slim even with excessive pressure. Likewise, a traditional string floss is more sterile as it is typically disposable.

The downside of the string option is that people see it as challenging and bothersome. It is also not recommended for concavities between the teeth and can leave a waxy coating behind which can shelter more dental plaque.

Aside from these disadvantages, the traditional string floss is wasteful with an individual approximately using five miles of string in a lifetime.

On the one hand, the interdental brush is more useful for people with larger interdental triangles because the gaps make the use of dental floss difficult. Also, it is a better option for patients with braces as it offers easier maneuvering than the traditional string floss.

But, an interdental brush is more expensive than the traditional string floss. It requires lubrication before use. The wire where the bristles are attached can cause damage to the gums. An interdental brush is not entirely sterile after a single use, which can cause gum irritation.

An oral irrigator is comparably more effective than its two counterparts. It is said to be two times more effective in reducing gingival bleeding than the traditional string floss. Dental professionals recommend it for people with orthodontic treatments or underwent dental restorations, as well as, patients with chronic gum disease or sensitivity.

The disadvantages of an oral irrigator lie on its heavy burden on the pocket. Its tips also require replacement every three to six months. It can also be messy as water can spray out everywhere. Likewise, when pressure is too high, food particles can move deeper into the soft tissue, countering its supposed use.

Aside from the three options above, you can also use flossing stick, electric flosser, and an air flosser.

  • Flossing sticks. If string floss is giving you a hard time holding and using it, you can turn to flossing sticks which are cheap go-to methods. They conveniently lay out the right amount of floss and hold it in place.
  • Electric flosser. An electric flosser has a thin, vibrating, string-like piece attached to its tip which can be easily placed between the teeth to wiggle out little bits of food and particles stuck between the teeth.
  • Sonicare Airfloss. With a claim to rid 99 percent more bacteria than a manual toothbrush, the Sonicare Airfloss is like Waterpik such that it requires the use of water. However, the difference between the two devices is that Sonicare Airfloss uses mostly air to pressurize bacteria and food particles.

To understand and know more about your choices, consult your dentist for recommendations. He or she will be able to give you the proper instructions and find the best solutions for your dental needs.

When should I Floss?

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends including flossing at least once a day to your oral hygiene regimen

There is no stipulated order of the oral hygiene routine. But, flossing after brushing is the recommended order so that flossing can help remove food particles stuck between the teeth that brushing failed to reach.

You can also opt to floss during morning or evening, depending on your preference. University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Dental Medicine professor Denis F. Kinane advised flossing at night to give the mouth an “eight-hour, food-free rest”. But, he did not dismiss the benefits of flossing in the morning. Other individuals do more than once-a-day flossing and opt to floss along with brushing.

What does flossing do to my teeth?

Flossing helps you achieve fresher health, decreases the risk of periodontal diseases, and makes you less susceptible to dental problems by removing plaque that may have hidden between the teeth and unreachable by brushing. By doing this, flossing lessens the chances of bacteria to infect the teeth and destroy them.

Studies have shown that flossing help makes the arteries younger by removing the bacteria that cause gum problems which also trigger inflammation of the arteries.

Although flossing is helpful, it will be most effective when done along with brushing and rinsing with mouthwash. Do not also neglect your biannual dental visits for optimal oral care.

How did the practice of Flossing begin?

In 1819, New Orleans-based dentist Levi Spear Parmly invented dental floss by recommending the use of silk thread to remove food debris between teeth. However, it was only in 1882 when dental floss became available for commercial sale. A Massachusetts-based company named Codman and Shurtleft marketed un-waxed dental floss. By 1898, pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson produced dental floss made from silk material used for stitches during surgery.

In the 1940s, nylon replaced silk as the makeup of dental floss due to its durability, consistent texture and resistance to shredding. The same period saw the development of waxed floss, while the 1950s saw the emergence of dental tape in the picture.

Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.


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