The Best Flossing Tools for a Healthy Smile

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With all the gadgets on the market today for a deep clean between your teeth, you might question whether traditional flossing tools hold up against store-bought ones that seemingly match dentist-level results. Get the facts on the pros and cons of different flossing devices and what's best for good, daily oral care.

Flossing 101

While your ancestors used everything from toothpicks, hair or string (and many people still do!) to wiggle out hard-to-reach debris between teeth, it wasn't until the early 19th century that dental floss, then made of silk, caught on. Levi Spear Parmly, a New Orleans-based dentist, noted that well-cleaned teeth prevent tooth decay, according to TIME Magazine. This is a no-brainer today, but Parmly's work superseded common understanding of dental hygiene.

Flossing is a standard guideline, promoted by the American Dental Association (ADA) as a necessary part of oral care. Currently, the ADA emphasizes that flossing is "an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums."

Unfortunately, many people disregard this wisdom, with statistics published in U.S. News and World Report showing that only about one-third of the U.S. population flosses daily. But common or uncommon, it's integral to preventing tooth loss and gum disease.

You should floss at least once a day, and do so by moving the floss in a push-pull and up-and-down motion between your teeth. To get the best results, particularly if you have braces or other oral considerations, it's always best to seek your dentist's instruction on the best way to floss your teeth.

Standard Floss: Waxed vs. Unwaxed

What is the difference between waxed and unwaxed floss, even if it's just a preference? Nylon floss comes in both varieties, and there are some pros and cons to each. Waxed floss glides more easily between teeth, snaps less often and is softer against your gumline. Unwaxed floss can be more effective in parsing out fine debris particles and for reaching between crowded teeth, but it can snap and snare on teeth. Shredded floss can occur when you have rough surfaces in your mouth, such as uneven teeth, old fillings or braces. Likewise, constant snaring may injure gums and cause discomfort or bleeding.

The Pros and Cons of Interdental Cleaners

For reasons unrelated to the mouth, some patients can find it difficult to use traditional floss. At least a quarter of adults suffer from the joint pain of arthritis, for example, according to the Arthritis Foundation, while young children may still be learning to manipulate floss. For some people, a dental floss pick or pre-threaded floss is a good alternative. These tools can make daily flossing less of a hassle.

However, as with traditional floss, spacing and crowding in your teeth can still make it hard to reach certain angles with flossing tools. It's best to speak with your dentist about the right tool for you and the best way to approach flossing in this case. Regular flossing, regardless of the tool, is paramount to preventing tooth decay and maintaining oral health.

Floss-Tip Toothbrushes in Lieu of Floss?

If you ever wondered whether the order of flossing and brushing matters, know that which one you do first isn't as important as doing both daily. So what about floss-tip toothbrushes as a two-in-one solution? The Colgate 360° Total Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles toothbrush provides four times deeper reach between teeth and along the gumline. The good news is that if you find flossing daily a chore, Registered Dental Hygienist Magazine reports that interdental brushes can be an effective alternative for reducing plaque. However, the study maintains that flossing in conjunction with brushing continues to be the best approach. So, continue to stock up on regular old floss — waxed or unwaxed — for you and your family.

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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.