The Different Types of Floss & How to Floss Properly


Flossing between your teeth regularly is one of the best ways to protect your teeth and gums from decay and disease. Left unattended, plaque clings to your teeth, creating a hive-like collection of millions of sticky bacteria. This forms a breeding ground for acids which cause decay and cavities, as well as promoting gum irritation which can lead to gum disease.

Gum disease, in turn, has been linked to general health issues of a serious nature, like strokes, heart disease and diabetes.

When plaque gets even more threatening

If ignored and left to its own devices, plaque calcifies into tartar, a much harder substance sometimes called calculus. The resulting tartar (or calculus) attaches itself to tooth enamel, and sometimes extends beneath the gum line, which makes it extremely hard to remove.

Types of floss

dental floss

Dental floss, the original method for cleaning between teeth, has developed considerably over the years. It is now available in several types, widths, strengths, and even flavors, increasing the chances of finding one that is both comfortable and effective for you.

Some is waxed, and some unwaxed, and other types have an anti-bacterial coating. It comes in thin thread form and as wider dental tape. You can also get floss holders which make using conventional floss easier than when you have to use your fingers to tauten, hold and manipulate it.

When choosing floss, consider the size of the gaps between your teeth and what particular difficulties you face with regard to cleaning between them. Whatever you choose must enable and encourage you to keep flossing regularly. No floss, however innovative and attractive it is, is going to keep your teeth from decaying, and maintain your gums’ health, unless you get into the habit of using it every day.

Interdental devices

Other interdental cleaning tools include plastic devices with bottle-brush ends in different sizes, for use where tooth spacing differs. There are also plastic tooth picks with bristles, and others which end in a bow already strung with floss.

Then there’s a tooth-brush sized implement with a very narrow head suitable for cleaning large interdental gaps; for care after surgery; and for taking on plaque build-up around bridges and braces.

Where the gaps are wide, a water pick, or water jet, shoots water between the teeth, dislodging debris and cleaning the side surfaces of teeth bordering the gap. Use this after conventional flossing, not instead of it.

How to use floss

Broadway Dental recommends you take a piece of floss about 10 inches (or 24cm) long and prepare a bow of floss between your two hands. Wind just enough to secure one end round the middle finger of one hand, leave a working section open and wind the rest onto the middle finger of your other hand. This will act as a spool from which you can unwind clean sections of floss as you move your flossing operation round your mouth. As you release floss from the “spool” finger, wind the used section onto the other finger, always keeping slight tension on the same length of floss between the two hands.

Insert the floss between your teeth gently and lower it to gum level. Lower both hands slightly so that the piece between them adopts a curved shape, and you keep it in contact with the gums at all times. However don’t pull it too tightly against them. Using your first (or index finger) for the lower jaw, and your thumbs for the upper jaw, keep the floss reasonably taut, and gently move it back and forth in a C motion on the gum line, before taking the back and forward motion ever-so-gently up and down the gap between your teeth. Don’t forget to clean the furthest side of your back molars, as plaque can collect there, too.

After flossing, be sure to discard the used floss – cleaning it and reusing it is not an option as it will be full of bacteria.

Be gentle on your teeth and gums

Flossing should be done correctly. However, too much flossing, or being too rough when doing it, might end up damaging the very gums you are trying to protect.

Avoid putting too much pressure on the flossing tool you are using, whether it’s actual floss, or other interdental cleaning devices. Harshness, haste and pressure can result in bleeding gums, and might even permanently damage the gum line.

Dentists recommend that flossing should be done carefully, and only once a day. A thorough flossing after you have brushed your teeth, and just before bedtime, is one of the best options. This way you know you will be doing your best to protect your teeth, gums and general health.

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