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How to Properly Floss Teeth

Anyone who has visited a dentist office has heard the dentist and dental hygienist go on and on about how you should floss more. The truth is that many people let this word of wisdom go in one ear and out the other so to speak. What many people don’t realize is that the dental staff isn’t just saying this for their own benefit; it is for yours.

Flossing is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to the care of your teeth and gums. Our mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. For bacteria, the mouth is a favorite place to be. All of the leftover food particles are like a buffet for the bacteria to feed from.

Unfortunately, these types of bacteria that inhabit your mouth aren’t always of the helpful variety. As they feed on food particles, they emit an acid that tears away at your tooth’s enamel. Not only are you now having to battle the acids the bacteria are emitting but they also release a sulfur compound that will cause you to have bad breath.

Bacteria are found among plaque. Plaque is sticky and colorless. It is where the bacteria hide among the sugars of leftover food. Plaque is the cause of cavities and gum disease. If not cleared away on a daily basis and done properly, it can turn into tartar. Tartar hardens and can lead to even more periodontal diseases. The worst part, once plaque turns to tartar you can get it off without a visit to the dentist.

So what does all this have to do with flossing? You’re proabably thinking that you brush your teeth regularly and so you should be fine. Wrong. Do you think bacteria and plaque only builds up on the front or the back of your teeth? Nope. It gets inbetween the teeth as well. Toothbrushes can’t clean in between each tooth. You are going to have to floss.

So what is the proper way to floss your teeth? First you need to understand when. You should always floss your teeth before brushing. This loosens up the plaque and debris from between your teeth. Then you can brush. It is also a good idea to carry floss with you at all times, just in case you can brush your teeth immediately you can still lower the chance of plaque building up.

Now on to how to properly floss your teeth. You will need a piece of floss about 18-inches long or the length of your arm span works too. Next, curl one end of the floss loosly around your middle finger and the other end around the middle finger on your other hand. Then hold the floss between your index finger and thumb and gently press between your teeth.

Simply placing the floss between your teeth isn’t going to be as effective as using the proper flossing technique. Gently glide the floss back and forth between your two teeth. Once you come to the gum line, make a “c-shape” against the tooth and use an up and down motion to clear any debris. Then repeat with the other tooth. Work your way around your entire mouth. Don’t forget the molars. They are just as important as the front of your teeth.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a person should floss at least once a day. Many dentists and dental hygienists will tell you it is best to floss after each time you eat. They even suggest carrying floss or floss picks with you. This is easier and more effective on your teeth and gums than using toothpicks or nothing at all.


Dr. Jimmy Wall, DMD (ret.)

Dr. Cherise Hollingsworth, DMD

American Dental Association (ADA)

Video on how to floss