Dental Floss

Table of Contents
How to Floss Correctly?
Benefits of Flossing
Types of Dental Floss
Children and flossing
Elderly and flossing

By Sai Venky



Have you ever wondered why when you go to the dentist one of the first questions they ask you is “Have you been flossing your teeth regularly?” some of us don’t always have the answer they want to hear. But why do they ask us that, what is so important about flossing and how does it benefit us?

Dental floss is a bundle of thin filaments used to remove remnants of food as well as hazardous dental plaque from our teeth. Floss should be inserted in between and scraped along the sides of our teeth, to help keep them clean and free of cavities.

A lot of us brush and floss the way we are supposed to but some of us forget to floss after we brush every now and then.  Flossing is vital to our dental health it can even save us money in the long run. Flossing alleviates bad breath, helps us to avoid cavities and gum disease which in turn would cost us money because we would need to go to the dentist for additional treatment.

A 2008 survey found that only 49% of Americans floss daily, and 10% never floss. That is unfortunate, because flossing can be more important than brushing when it comes to preventing periodontal (gum) disease and tooth loss. 

Flossing gets between the teeth and cleans out the spots that the toothbrush cannot reach. By flossing daily you become less likely to fall victim to gum infections or cavities from bacteria build-up.

Research has concluded that adding flossing to a regular oral hygiene routine reduces the risk of experiencing gum disease or gingivitis. Flossing beforehand as the ADA suggests will help to remove plaque and the small particles of food left in between teeth and make mouthwash more effective.Your fluoride toothpaste will be able to clean more efficiently since the floss has already removed and loosened some of the plaque that had been stuck to the teeth.

Dental floss is sold in many stores and often comes in a dispenser which includes 10 to 100 meters of floss. The piece of floss is held between the fingers and is guided between each tooth and under the gum line to remove bacteria. The floss scrapes each side of the tooth and cleans the front and back of our teeth. A clean piece of floss should be used for each tooth to avoid spreading existing bacteria to other teeth.

When selecting a dental floss the most important aspect to consider is the degree of thickness of the floss. If it is too thin it can tear or break during flossing, however if it is too thick it can make it difficult to fully maneuver around teeth for optimum results. The deviation of thickness depends on the person using it and which part of the mouth they are flossing. Certain teeth have different sized gaps in between them and can require different sizes of floss. 

The ADA (or American Dental Association) recommends flossing at least once a day. Flossing before brushing allows for the fluoride from the toothpaste to reach more difficult areas of the teeth. For the most effective flossing the ADA recommends to curve the floss across the side of the tooth in a C or U shape and then proceed to wipe the tooth from under the gum line to the tip several times. It is important to remember that flossing too hard or incorrectly can damage gum tissue.

Dental Floss Facts

Flossing for Good Health

How to floss correctly?

Steps and Tips To Follow When Flossing

1. Start with about 18 inches of floss, hold the floss between your thumbs and index fingers and slide between your teeth

2. Curve the floss around the base of each tooth, beneath the gum line. Making a C or a U shape around the tooth.

3. Use clean sections of floss as you switch from tooth to tooth. This prevents spreading the bacteria from one tooth to another.

Benefits of flossing

Flossing can vastly improve your oral health. There are many benefits that can result from flossing daily and maintaining good health:

  • Eliminates cavity causing bacteria and plaque
  • Removes bad breath (Halitosis)
  • Prevents Gum Disease
  • Can save you from costly dental procedures in the future

Types of Dental Floss

Floss can be made of different materials. Besides for the plastic and standard nylon dental floss, there are other types which you can benefit from using. 

1. Dental Ribbon

  • Some flosses consist of dental ribbon and not the commonly found nylon string. Ribbon floss is notably smoother and more comfortable than other flosses available and is usually recommended for people with sensitive gums.

2. Automatic Flossers

  • Automatic flossers make the flossing process easier and more convenient. Some people have difficulty achieving the clean teeth they desire through flossing, automatic flossers can help. They use a nylon filament to floss your teeth for you. When turning it on it begins to clean the gaps between your teeth without effort.

3. A Flosser

  • For a hand-held flosser, the flossing steps are very similar. Hold the flosser handle and direct the tip at an angle which faces the section you wish to floss. Guide the floss gently between two teeth, and be sure to avoid snapping or popping the floss. Use the same motions used with standard floss and bend the floss around each tooth and slide it under the gum line and along each tooth surface.

4. An Electric Flosser

  • Many people prefer to use electric flossers for convenience. Using an electric flosser is quite similar to standard floss. First guide the floss into place and move the flosser back and forth between teeth.

Why is Flossing Important?

Children and Flossing

Oral hygiene begins during early childhood. Many of the actions taken during this stage have a direct influence on the way a child's teeth develop in the future. You can help prevent dental decay and diseases from an early stage in your child's life. As soon as teeth erupt they can be cleaned with a soft washcloth.

When your child's teeth begin to touch each other you can begin teaching them how to floss. Many children do not know how to floss or lack the proper coordination until they reach the age of six or seven. It is important that you emphasize the importance of flossing and proper oral hygiene to your children at an early age.

How to floss with braces?

Flossing is particularly important if you or your child wears braces or a retainer. With braces it is much easier for food and bacteria to become lodged underneath and cause permanent damage to your teeth. If you do have braces, waxed flossing products should be used, mainly because unwaxed flossing products often get caught on the braces, which can cause damage.

When flossing with braces there are methods to consider and must be implemented carefully to avoid damage. Begin with the teeth on one side of the mouth and carefully thread the floss underneath the wire and between the two teeth and carefully pull up and down. Be sure to keep switching pieces of floss in between teeth to prevent spreading food and bacteria to other teeth.

The Elderly and Flossing

Flossing is important for everyone to maintain a healthy smile. This fact is particularly true when elderly teeth are concerned. Elderly people are more prone to gum disease and infection because of:

  • Osteoporosis - Studies have shown that gum disease can be an early indicator of Osteoporosis.
  • The Aging Process - As people age their gums begin to recede, flossing regularly can help slow down the receding process and the teeth secure in the gums.
  • Dry Mouth (or xerostomia) - Lack of saliva flow can cause severe dental issues, especially within the elderly community. Saliva helps clean our teeth of bacteria and plaque which otherwise attach to \teeth and create dental decay. Certain types of medications, commonly found in the elderly diminish saliva flow and promote tooth decay. It is imperative to floss and practice proper dental hygiene to ward off this process.
  • Fillings - Patients with older fillings can develop tooth decay if not treated regularly with flossing and brushing
  • With all of the innovations made to flossing, it has never been easier for a person of any age to floss regularly. Even if you are elderly and have trouble flossing there are devices and appliances that make flossing easier and more convenient. 

Additional information