Did you know?
Regular flossing plays a crucial role in your dental hygiene. When you skip flossing, plaque can build up between your teeth and along your gumline. Over time, this can increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), interdental cleaners such as floss play a vital role in removing plaque and debris from areas that a toothbrush can’t reach.
Read on to learn more about the key benefits of flossing and how often and when you should floss. If you’re looking for alternatives to floss for interdental cleaning, we have that covered, too.
Digging out a lingering piece of popcorn or removing some leftover spinach from between your teeth feels really good.
But, in addition to helping your teeth and gums look and feel good, flossing also has many other benefits. Let’s look at these benefits in more detail.
1. Gets rid of plaque
Plaque is a colorless sticky film that collects around and between your teeth and along your gumline. Although it’s difficult to see, plaque isn’t something you want lingering in your mouth for very long.
Plaque forms on and around your teeth when bacteria in your mouth mix with starchy or sugary foods and drinks. These bacteria release acids that break down carbohydrates. If you don’t brush your teeth, the bacteria, acids, and carbohydrates can mix together to form a film of plaque on and around your teeth and gumline.
The bacteria in plaque can release acids that attack your tooth enamel. If these acids aren’t removed with brushing and flossing, it can, over time, lead to cavities.
Regular flossing can help remove food particles from around your teeth, as well as plaque that’s built up between your teeth.
2. Reduces the risk of cavities
Although this process takes time, the more plaque you have on the enamel of your teeth, the higher your risk of developing a cavity.
Flossing between your teeth at least once a day can help get rid of hidden food particles and plaque buildup, and lower your risk of tooth decay.
3. Helps prevent gum disease
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. One of the first signs of gingivitis is inflammation around your gums. Your gums may also bleed when you brush or floss your teeth.
If gingivitis isn’t treated, it can lead to a more serious infection known as periodontitis. This can cause your gums to recede or pull away from your teeth. Your teeth may lose bone support and become loose. If not treated, periodontitis can cause an inflammatory response throughout your body.
Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day can help reduce your risk of gum disease. Professional cleanings done by your dentist every 6 months can also help keep your gums healthy.
4. Reduces bad breath
Bad breath (halitosis) is a common problem. But flossing is one of the tools you can use to keep bad breath away.
When food gets trapped between your teeth, it slowly starts to decay. If you don’t remove the food particles, it can cause you to have foul-smelling breath.
Also, if plaque builds up around or between your teeth and starts eroding your tooth enamel, it can cause cavities and gum disease, which contribute to bad breath.
5. May help your heart health
Good dental hygiene doesn’t only benefit your teeth and gums. It may benefit your heart health, too.
That said, the American Heart AssociationTrusted Source says a connection between oral health and heart health may have more to do with a link between the health of your mouth and the overall health of your body.
Regardless, flossing your teeth is a simple, low-cost way to help boost your oral hygiene as well as your overall health.
The ADA recommends brushing your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Some people prefer to floss during their morning routine, while others like one final cleaning before bed.
It’s generally recommended that you floss your teeth before brushing them. When you floss, you typically loosen food particles and plaque around your teeth. The brushing action then helps to remove the plaque and particles that you’ve removed from your teeth and gum line.
Standard dental floss generally comes in two varieties: waxed and unwaxed. Choosing between the two often comes down to personal preference, especially since the ADA claims there’s no difference between the effectiveness of the two types. If your teeth are closer together or crowded, a wax coating may make it easier to get into those tight spaces.
Floss also comes in tape form, which is broader and flat and works well if you have gaps in your teeth.
Additionally, if you have braces, bridges, or gaps, you may want to try a super floss. This type of floss has a regular floss thread, spongy floss, and a dental floss threader with a stiff end.
If you find traditional floss hard to use, there are some floss alternatives you can try, such as:
- water flossers
- air flossers
- interdental brushes
These tools allow you to use water, air, or small brushes that are similar to a mascara wand, to clean the sides and between your teeth.
According to the ADA, these are all acceptable tools for removing food and debris from your teeth.
Flossing instructions for Normal Teeth
- Break off about 18 to 24 inches of dental floss. To hold the floss correctly, wind most of the floss around both of your middle fingers. Leave only about 1 to 2 inches of floss for your teeth.
- Next, hold the floss taut with your thumbs and index fingers.
- Place the dental floss in between two teeth. Gently glide the floss up and down, rubbing it against both sides of each tooth. Don’t glide the floss into your gums. This can scratch or bruise your gums.
- As the floss reaches your gums, curve the floss at the base of the tooth to form a C shape. This allows the floss to enter the space between your gums and your tooth.
- Repeat the steps as you move from tooth to tooth. With each tooth, use a new, clean section of floss.
Flossing instructions for braces
Break off about 18 to 24 inches of waxed dental floss.
Stand in front of a mirror so you can make sure the floss is going where you need it to.
Start by threading the floss between your teeth and the main wire. Twist the loose ends of the floss around your index fingers so you can move the floss around easily.
Press the floss between the two teeth as gently as you can. Then, move the floss up and down along the sides of both teeth.
When working on your top teeth, try to make an upside-down U with the floss. To do this, go up the side of one tooth until you get to the gumline. Then, glide the floss down the side of the other tooth.
Gently remove the floss and carefully unthread it from behind the wire. Avoid popping the floss out of your tooth, as you could dislodge a wire.
Now, move on to the next two teeth, and use the same technique until you’ve flossed between all your teeth.
When should you floss?
Knowing the right time to floss also contributes to good oral health. Some people have a routine of brushing their teeth first and then flossing. However, it’s generally recommended to floss and then brush your teeth.
Flossing helps lift and release food and plaque stuck in between your teeth, while brushing removes these particles from your mouth. If you brush first and floss afterward, food and plaque remain in your mouth until the next time you brush.
The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once per day and brushing twice per day.
Types of dental floss
Dental floss comes in many varieties. Which type of floss is best for you depends on your preferences, the amount of space in between your teeth, and whether you have braces or bridges.
Some dental floss is easier to use in wider spaces, whereas other types of floss are easier to use in tighter spaces.
Different types of dental floss include:
- Dental tape. This type of dental floss is broader and flat like a ribbon, making it easier to handle if you have braces, gaps, or large spaces in between your teeth.
- Standard floss. This is a thin, nylon strand that can fit in between teeth. It comes flavored or unflavored as well as waxed or unwaxed. If your teeth are crowded or closer together, dental floss with a wax coating can make it easier to get in between them.
- Super flosses. This dental floss threader can work with braces, bridges, and gaps. It has three components: a stiffened end for flossing underneath appliances, spongy floss to clean around your appliances, and regular floss to eliminate plaque underneath your gumline.
In addition to dental tape, waxed floss, and floss threaders, other tools can make flossing easier and faster.
- One option is to use an electric flosser or a water flosser, which uses water and pressure to remove plaque and food from in between teeth. Both are great options if you have trouble using regular floss. A water flosser is also useful if you have braces. This device can clean in between brackets and wires.
- Another option is to use disposable floss picks. They’re easy to maneuver and can help you floss hard-to-reach teeth in the back of your mouth.
Good oral hygiene involves more than just brushing your teeth. It also involves flossing and knowing how to floss correctly.
Flossing helps remove bacteria, plaque, and food from between your teeth, and it reduces the likelihood of tooth decay and gum disease. Along with regular brushing and flossing, make sure you also schedule regular dental cleanings at least twice a year.