How Often Should You Floss?

Mother and Daughter Prepare to Floss at Home

You know that flossing is good for your teeth and gums, but are you sure you're flossing as often as you should? And are you doing it correctly? Flossing can feel like an annoying chore, yet this essential task can make all the difference to your dental health. Here's everything you need to know to establish a solid flossing routine.

How Often Should You Floss?

Brushing your teeth twice per day is an effective way to clean the visible surfaces of your teeth, but what about the hard-to-reach places in between your teeth and the spot where your teeth meet the gums? Flossing cleans between your teeth and along your gumline. If plaque isn't removed from these areas, the sticky deposit builds up and eventually hardens. The resulting substance is called tartar or calculus, and it can lead to gum disease, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA recommends flossing at least once per day to remove plaque, bacteria and food debris and help prevent cavities and gum disease.

Ideal Flossing Technique

Learning to floss your teeth takes a bit of practice, but it's usually easy once you know how. The ADA suggests breaking off a piece of floss about 18 inches long and winding most of the piece around the middle finger of one hand. Then, wind the remaining floss around the middle finger of your other hand, leaving a strand between your hands.

Grip the floss between your index fingers and thumbs of both hands, and then slide the strand between two of your teeth. Move the floss down or up until it reaches the gumline, and then curve it and gently slip it under the gum next to one tooth. Clean under the gum of the adjoining tooth in the same way. To clean the surfaces between the teeth, move the floss upward and downward tightly against your tooth.

Slide the floss out, and unwind a fresh section from the middle finger that holds the most floss, taking up the slack by winding it around the middle finger of your other hand. Floss between all your teeth, top and bottom, unwinding a clean piece of floss for each new space between teeth.

When Is the Best Time to Floss?

The most convenient time to floss is when you brush your teeth, either in the morning or the evening. But is it better to floss before brushing or afterward? According to a study in the Journal of Periodontology, flossing first and then brushing is more effective at removing plaque between the teeth and at maintaining the concentration of fluoride on the tooth enamel.

Ultimately, though, the best time to floss is the time that your schedule allows for it. So be sure to clear out a small block of time in your daily routine for this essential practice.

Alternatives to Dental Floss

Sometimes, getting the hang of using dental floss is a struggle. If you find it difficult to use traditional floss, try waxed floss, which slips between your teeth more easily, or try alternative interdental cleaners listed by the ADA. These alternatives include pre-threaded flossers, dental picks, tiny brushes you can slide between your teeth and wooden plaque removers. You may also have seen powered water flossers at the drugstore. These devices work by firing a jet of water between the teeth. According to the Mayo Clinic, water picks are effective at removing food debris and reducing mouth bacteria below the gumline, but they might not be as effective at removing plaque.

So, how often should you floss? It's an easy question to answer: daily. When you're flossing once per day, try to ensure your technique is effective at removing plaque between your teeth and below the gumline. If you have any problems, your dentist or dental hygienist can give you tips or suggest an alternative flossing device that will work for you.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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How to FLOSS

  1. Pull 18 to 24 inches of dental floss from the floss dispenser.

  2. Wrap the ends of the floss around your index and middle fingers.

  3. Hold the floss tightly around each tooth in a C shape; move the floss back and forth in a push-pull motion and up and down against the side of each tooth.

How to BRUSH

  1. Place the toothbrush at a 45°angle along the gum line. Move the toothbrush in a back and forth motion, and repeat for each tooth.

  2. Brush the inside surface of each tooth, using the same back and forth technique.

  3. Brush the chewing surface (top) of each tooth.

  4. Use tip of brush to brush behind each tooth — front and back, top and bottom and up and down strokes.

  5. Be sure to brush your tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria.

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