Young woman flossing her teeth in front of the bathroom mirror.

Mastering the Art of Dental Flossing: Techniques for a Healthier Smile

Flossing is a crucial component of maintaining good oral hygiene. By cleaning the areas under the gum line and between teeth where brushing alone can’t reach, flossing helps remove plaque buildup, preventing gum disease and tooth decay.

However, developing the habit of regularly flossing can be challenging, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the proper technique or the different dental tools available for this purpose.

Fortunately, this article will help you become a flossing pro in no time. We will delve into the different types of dental floss on the market, provide step-by-step guidance on using the correct flossing technique, and offer tips on selecting the ideal dental floss for your needs. 

Overview of Dental Flossing

There are various types of dental floss, each with its unique benefits. Some of the most common types of dental floss include: 

Nylon Floss

Nylon floss is a highly recommended type of dental floss by dentists due to its effectiveness at removing plaque and its strength. It is available in both waxed and unwaxed varieties.

Waxed nylon floss has a thin layer of wax that helps it slide easily between teeth, reducing the likelihood of shredding. However, waxed nylon floss may be difficult to use if your teeth are closely spaced.

On the other hand, Unwaxed nylon floss consists of approximately 35 twisted strands and is thinner than waxed floss. It is perfect if your teeth fit closely together, but it is more likely to shred due to the lack of wax coating.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) Floss

PTFE dental floss, or monofilament floss, is made of a single strand of polytetrafluoroethylene, a synthetic material stronger than nylon.

Your dentist may suggest using PTFE dental floss, particularly if you have tightly spaced teeth or dental orthodontics, such as braces, because its smooth surface makes it easy to maneuver in difficult-to-reach areas.

Similar to nylon dental floss, PTFE floss is offered in waxed and unwaxed varieties and in various flavors, including cinnamon and mint.

Super Floss

Super floss is specifically designed to help maintain proper oral hygiene if you have dental appliances like braces and aligners. Made from a yarn-like material, this floss is divided into three sections: a stiff end, a spongy middle section, and a regular floss section. 

The stiff end can thread the floss through tight spaces such as brace brackets and wires. The spongy middle section is absorbent and perfect for cleaning around dental appliances, while the regular floss section is ideal for cleaning between teeth. 

Dental Tape

Dental tape, a wide and flat alternative to traditional nylon dental floss, is recommended for larger spaces between your teeth, as its unique shape allows for effective plaque removal. 

Dental tape comes in flavored varieties, making it a suitable option for children who may find flossing unpleasant. Furthermore, if you have crowded teeth, waxed dental tape is an excellent option since it’s less likely to shred than thinner dental floss.

Proper Flossing Techniques

While flossing is vital to oral hygiene, improper technique can damage your teeth and gums. To avoid this, follow this step-by-step guide to ensure you are flossing correctly:

  1. Start breaking off about 20 to 24 inches of dental floss. Then, wrap most of the floss around the middle fingers of both hands, leaving approximately 2 inches of floss between your fingers to use for cleaning your teeth.
  2. Use your thumb and index fingers to hold the floss taut. Next, relax your lips and cheeks to make inserting your fingers into your mouth easier. 
  3. Afterward, gently insert the floss between two teeth and move it up and down to clean both sides of each tooth effectively. When flossing around the gum line, be cautious not to snap the floss into the gums, as this can result in bruising. 
  4. When you reach the base of the tooth, curve the floss into a C-shape, which can help it reach below the gum line and effectively remove any plaque buildup and residual food particles.
  5. Repeat this process for all your teeth, using a clean section of floss for each tooth. 
  6. Rinse your mouth with water and mouthwash to remove any loosened plaque or food residue. 

How to Choose the Right Type of Dental Floss for Your Needs

Selecting the appropriate floss type is just as crucial as using the correct flossing technique. Given that there is no one-size-fits-all floss, considering the following factors will aid in selecting the most suitable dental floss for your oral care routine.

  • Dental appliances: Flossing can pose a challenge if you have dental appliances like braces and aligners. Nonetheless, utilizing specially-designed dental floss types, such as super floss, that can effectively clean around these appliances can significantly reduce the frustration associated with flossing.
  • Interdental spaces: When selecting dental floss, it’s crucial to consider the spaces between your teeth. Thin flosses like nylon and PTFE dental floss are more effective for tight interdental spaces. Alternatively, dental tape and thicker dental floss may be more suitable if you have wide interdental spaces.
  • Personal preferences: Different floss types provide unique flossing experiences. For example, waxed dental floss glides more easily between the teeth, while unwaxed floss feels more natural. Also, flavored dental floss can make flossing more enjoyable. 
  • Dentist’s recommendation: To make an informed decision about dental floss, it is advisable to consult with your dentist. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your dental health and preferences, enabling you to choose the most suitable dental floss for your needs.

Common Flossing Mistakes

Although the concept of flossing is straightforward, there are common mistakes that can compromise the effectiveness of your routine and lead to potential harm to your teeth and gums. In addition to flossing with the proper technique, you must avoid these common flossing mistakes. 

Putting Pressure on Your Gums

To minimize the risk of gum injury while flossing, it’s best to avoid putting excessive pressure on your gums, particularly as you clean under the gum line. Forceful flossing can damage the delicate gum tissue, leading to gum recession. 

To prevent this, don’t snap the dental floss against the gums. Instead, focus on moving the plaque away from the gum line using gentle back-and-forth motions to slide the floss between your teeth.

Flossing Too Quickly

To effectively clean all the sides of each tooth, flossing requires a few seconds per tooth. On average, it should take 2 to 3 minutes to floss properly. It is best to use a systematic approach to ensure you don’t miss any areas or damage your gums. Start on one end of your mouth and gradually work to the other. 

By following this method, you can be sure that you are flossing each tooth thoroughly and avoiding any potential harm to your gums from rushing through the process.

Not Using the Right Type of Floss

It is important to note that various types of dental floss are specifically designed to cater to different dental requirements. Using the wrong type of dental floss can not only be ineffective, but it can also potentially harm your gums. It is advisable to seek guidance from your dentist if you are uncertain which dental floss best suits your needs.

Flossing Too Frequently

Proper flossing is essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Flossing more than once daily can irritate the delicate gum tissue, leading to inflammation or gum disease. To ensure the best oral health, set a specific time for flossing each day.

Skipping Teeth

Your flossing routine should include all teeth, especially those in hard-to-reach mouth areas. Remember to thoroughly clean the spaces between and behind your back molars, as these areas are prone to accumulating plaque and food debris.

Tools and Aids: An Overview of Dental Tools That Can Be Used in Conjunction With Flossing

Frequent and thorough flossing offers numerous benefits, such as effectively preventing tartar buildup and promoting optimal oral health. 

Nevertheless, traditional flossing can be challenging, particularly if you wear dental appliances like braces or have difficulty using the correct flossing technique due to a lack of dexterity.

Fortunately, there are alternative dental tools that can be used alongside or in place of dental floss. They include: 

  • Interdental brushes:  These tiny toothbrushes can be used instead of traditional floss to clean interdental spaces. They come in different shapes and sizes and provide a better flossing option if you have dental orthodontics, such as braces installed
  • Water flossers: Water flossing is a technique that utilizes a constant stream of water to cleanse the hard-to-reach interdental areas. This method can be particularly beneficial if you find traditional flossing to be time-consuming or if you have sensitive gums that often bleed after flossing. 
  • Gum stimulators: These dental tools feature a small, pointed rubber tip designed to stimulate the gums, improving their resistance to infection and inflammation. Gum stimulators can be particularly useful if you have gingivitis since traditional flossing may be too harsh for your sensitive gums. However, it’s important to note that while gum stimulators can be an effective supplement to your oral hygiene routine, they should not be used as a substitute for regular tooth brushing and flossing.
  • Pre-threaded floss: Pre-threaded floss is a highly effective dental flossing tool consisting of a tautly stretched dental floss over two small plastic arms. It is designed to clean hard-to-reach areas such as the back molars easily and is particularly useful if you struggle with maneuvering traditional dental floss between their teeth.
  • Air flossers: Air flossers are an excellent alternative to water flossers as they utilize a blend of micro-droplets and compressed air to cleanse interdental gaps. In addition to being less messy than water flossers, air flossers are more efficient than conventional dental floss, especially when cleaning brace wires and brackets.

Dental Flossing Recommendations

The foundation of good oral health rests on regular brushing and flossing, but establishing a consistent flossing routine can be difficult, especially if maintaining good oral hygiene habits is a challenge for you. To overcome this, you can schedule a convenient time for flossing. 

For instance, flossing before bedtime is recommended if your teeth are susceptible to decay. Since your mouth produces less saliva while you sleep, flossing before bedtime reduces the chances of oral bacteria feeding on food residue and causing damage to your teeth.

Additionally, flossing too much can lead to gum inflammation and irritation. Therefore, it’s best to floss thoroughly once daily, particularly after meals, to remove plaque and food residue from interdental spaces.

Finally, if traditional dental floss is challenging for you, or if you have dental appliances like braces, consider alternative options such as water flossers or interdental brushes. These can be effective tools for maintaining oral hygiene in hard-to-reach areas.

Proper flossing is essential for maintaining excellent oral hygiene and preventing dental problems like gum disease and tooth decay. Flossing at least once a day using the correct technique can effectively remove plaque buildup and reduce the risk of bad breath.

In addition to regular dental checkups, incorporating flossing into your daily dental routine can help you maintain healthy teeth and achieve optimal oral health. So, prioritize flossing to keep your smile bright and healthy.