Using floss to clean your teeth "is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. Professional cleaning, brushing your teeth, and flossing (and using a waterpik or interdental brushes) prevents the buildup of and removes plaque" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). However, only four out of ten Americans floss their teeth at least once a day and 2 out of ten never floss at all.
What is Flossing?
Flossing uses a dental string to remove food and dental plaque stuck between teeth and in areas unreachable by brushing. There's a wide variety of dental flosses, including waxed, unwaxed monofilaments, and multifilament.
How to Floss
One of the most common and extensively used options is traditional string floss. Here's how to floss, according to the American Dental Association:
- Wind 18 to 20 inches of floss around your middle fingers of both hands. Tightly press the floss between the index fingers and thumbs with about a one- to two-inch gap in between. Use the thumb to direct the string between the teeth.
- Glide the string in a zigzag motion between the teeth. Bind the floss around the sides of each tooth while ensuring that the string will not snap between the teeth.
- Slide the floss up below the gum line with gentle up-and-down movements against the surface of each tooth.
Want Your Kid to Floss More? Here are 3 Flossing Tips for Kids
You can’t always win your battles. Getting your child to floss regularly can be an incredibly tiring one. Flossing, in general, can be a chore regardless of age. However, we learned that using floss is beneficial to reducing your oral plaque and preventing build-up between your teeth. Starting your child early-down this path, then, doesn’t just make it easier for them to build the habit. It also sets them up for a better start in their dental health journey. Fortunately, there are flossing tips for kids that can make the task much more manageable.
If you’re a parent who wants to teach their child how to floss, remember that it’s easier to explain something you already know. If your oral health is in trouble, however, you might want to back off until you’re back on track. That said, how can you turn flossing from a tiring chore to second nature? Here are some flossing tips for kids you might want to try out:
- Listen to their needs: There's a lot of reasons why your child could be averse to the idea of flossing. It might be tedious for their young muscles to reach the crevices of their back molars. Navigating the floss between their teeth might be another source of the difficulty. And it can be scary to have a piece of floss caught between their gums. While you’re teaching them how to floss, then be sure you’re receptive to their needs, as this can color their experience. If they have a hard time flossing until their back molars, look for ways to make it easier for them. If the floss is the problem, consider a thinner, waxed version that can easily slip through your little one’s teeth.
- Let your children participate: Gone are the days when drilling the motions were the only way to teach young children anything. Over the years, we've discovered that the more participation a child has in the learning process, the more likely they will retain what they’d learned.
- The same goes for teaching them how to floss. Whether this means letting your kids pick out their floss of choice or trying out the techniques themselves, giving them a level of participation can make flossing a fun endeavor.
- Be the example they need: Children often learn faster when they have someone to follow. Toddlers, in particular, tend to imitate the people around them to learn more about the world they inhabit. That said, you can use this as an opportunity to get them interested in flossing. Bring your child along whenever you do floss. And if they do show an interest in learning how to, let them follow. Not only can you help them out when they encounter a snag, but the quality time spent while you floss together can turn it into a pleasurable moment for them.
How to Use Interdental Brushes to Floss
An interdental brush is also known as an interproximal brush. It is a small brush typically equipped with a plastic handle, making it easy to get a good grip as you floss. These brushes are recommended if you have metal braces.
An interdental brush may come in an I or L shape. An I-shaped interdental brush is used for the front teeth and can be bent at the desired angle by curving the plastic tip. An extension cap can also be attached to reach the back teeth using an I-shaped brush. On the other hand, L-shaped brushes are best for the back teeth at a fixed angle. To use an interdental brush:
- 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.
If string floss and interdental brushes do not suit your preference, you can opt for an oral irrigator. An oral irrigator is a home dental care device that uses a stream of pulsating water to remove plaque and food between the teeth. It is also useful for cleaning the gum line, improving gingival health. To use an oral irrigator:
- First, fill the reservoir with warm or room temperature water. Attach the tip to the device if you have not already. Some oral irrigators come with different tips depending on your needs and preferences.
- Place the tip inside your mouth before turning it on. Clean between 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. Give your attention to each individual tooth. Then, begin cleaning from back-to-front on the teeth of your lower jaw.
- When finished, turn off the device before removing it from your device. Expel excess water from your irrigator or water flosser. Remove and thoroughly wash the removable tip. Then, store your unit for later use.
String vs. Interdental Brush vs. Oral Irrigator
Choosing between the three options can be confusing, as each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Traditional string floss fits between the tightest spaces easily. Chances of damaging the soft tissues are also slim, even with excessive pressure. Likewise, conventional string floss is more sterile as it is typically disposable. The downside of the string option is that people see it as challenging, time-consuming, and bothersome. Aside from the latter, traditional string floss is wasteful. The average flosser will end up using approximately five miles of string in a lifetime.
On the other hand, interdental brushes are more useful for those with larger interdental triangles because gaps make regular dental floss difficult. It is also a better option for patients with braces as it offers easier maneuvering than traditional string floss. However, interdental brushes are more expensive than regular string floss. For some folks, the bristles of these brushes may cause damage to the gums. Additionally, interdental brushes are 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 traditional string floss. Dental professionals recommend it for people going through orthodontic treatment, those who underwent dental restorations, and patients with chronic gum disease or sensitivity. The disadvantages of an oral irrigator lie on its heavy burden on the pocket. The tips also require replacement every three to six months. It can also be messy as water can spray out everywhere if not used correctly. Likewise, when pressure is too high, food particles can move deeper into the soft tissue, countering its supposed intent.
Besides the three options above, you can also use a flossing stick, electric flosser, or an air flosser.
- Flossing sticks. If string floss is difficult for you to hold and use, you can turn to flossing sticks, which are cheap go-to alternatives. They conveniently layout the right amount of floss and keep it in place for you. The thick handles make flossing sticks, or flossing picks easy to hold and maneuver.
- 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 particles stuck between the teeth.
- Sonicare Airfloss. With a claim to rid of 99 percent more bacteria than a manual toothbrush, the Sonicare Airfloss is like a Waterpik in that it requires water use. However, the difference between the two devices is that Sonicare Airfloss uses mostly air to pressurize bacteria and food particles.
When to Floss
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends adding flossing at least once a day to your oral hygiene regimen.
There is no specific order you should incorporate flossing in your oral hygiene routine. But flossing after brushing is often recommended as flossing can help remove food particles stuck between the teeth that brushing failed to reach.
You can also opt to floss during the 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.” However, he did not dismiss the benefits of flossing in the morning. Other individuals engage in flossing more than once a day, opting to floss alongside brushing both in the morning and before bed.
What Does Flossing Do to Your Teeth?
Flossing helps you achieve fresher health and makes you less susceptible to dental problems by removing plaque hidden between the teeth unreachable by brushing.
Studies have shown that flossing helps make one's arteries "younger" and healthier by removing bacteria that causes gum problems and triggers inflammation of the arteries.
Although flossing is helpful, it will be most effective when done along with brushing and rinsing with mouthwash. Additionally, do not neglect your biannual dental visits for optimal oral care. Your dentist can let you know if you are or are not flossing correctly.
History of Flossing
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 wasn't until 1882 when dental floss became available for commercial sale. A Massachusetts-based company known as 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 shredding resistance. The same period saw the development of waxed floss, while the 1950s saw the emergence of dental tape.