What is the proper way to floss?


What is the proper way to floss?

Flossing is a fundamental aspect of oral hygiene, yet it's often overlooked or performed incorrectly. Proper flossing removes plaque and food particles in places where a toothbrush cannot easily reach: under the gumline and between your teeth. Because plaque build-up can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, flossing is essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. This comprehensive guide explains the proper way to floss, emphasizing technique, frequency, and the importance of making flossing a routine part of your dental care regimen.

Understanding the Importance of Flossing

  1. Prevents Plaque Build-Up: Flossing removes plaque from between the teeth and gumline, areas most susceptible to decay.
  2. Reduces Risk of Gum Disease: By removing plaque, flossing also reduces the risk of gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease.
  3. Contributes to Overall Health: Poor oral health has been linked to various health issues, including heart disease. Flossing contributes to good oral health and, by extension, overall health.

Choosing the Right Dental Floss

Before delving into the technique, it's important to select the right type of dental floss:

  • Waxed and Unwaxed Floss: Waxed floss is easier to slide between closely spaced teeth but both types are effective.
  • Dental Tape: Broader and flatter than standard floss, dental tape can be a good option for those with wider spaces between their teeth.
  • Water Flossers: For those who find traditional flossing challenging, water flossers are an effective alternative, using a stream of pulsating water to remove plaque and debris between teeth.

Proper Flossing Technique

A step-by-step guide to effective flossing:

  1. Cut a Length of Floss: Use about 18 inches of floss, winding most of it around one of your middle fingers, with the rest around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger will take up the floss as it becomes dirty.

  2. Hold the Floss Tightly: Grip the floss tightly between your thumbs and index fingers, leaving about an inch or two of floss to work with.

  3. Slide the Floss: Gently slide the floss between your teeth using a zigzag motion. Be careful not to snap the floss into your gums.

  4. Form a C Shape: Once the floss reaches the gumline, curve it into a “C” shape against one tooth. Slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth, until you feel resistance.

  5. Rub the Side of the Tooth: Move the floss away from the gum with up and down motions, rubbing the side of the tooth. Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth, including the back side of your last teeth.

  6. Unwind Fresh Floss: As you move from tooth to tooth, unwind fresh floss from around your finger while winding the used floss onto the finger of the opposite hand.

  7. Rinse Your Mouth: After flossing, rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash to remove any dislodged particles or debris.

Flossing Frequency

  • Daily Flossing: The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends flossing at least once a day to most effectively remove dental plaque and avoid tartar build-up.

Tips for Effective Flossing

  • Be Gentle: Avoid snapping the floss into the gums to prevent damage.
  • Don't Skip Tight Spots: Even if it's difficult to get the floss between your teeth, gently work it back and forth until it goes through.
  • Use a Mirror: Flossing in front of a mirror can help ensure you don't miss any spots.
  • Floss Before Brushing: Some studies suggest that flossing before brushing may allow for increased fluoride retention from your toothpaste.

Dealing with Flossing Challenges

  • If You Have Braces: Use a floss threader to get the floss behind the wires.
  • Sensitive Gums: If your gums bleed when you first start flossing, this should improve within a week or two as your gums become healthier.
  • Dexterity Issues: If holding floss is difficult, consider using a floss pick, pre-threaded flosser, or water flosser.


Flossing is an integral part of oral hygiene that complements brushing by removing plaque and debris from areas your toothbrush can't reach. By following the proper technique and making flossing a daily habit, you can significantly reduce your risk of gum disease and tooth decay, contributing to a healthier mouth and overall wellbeing. Remember, a comprehensive oral hygiene routine that includes regular dental check-ups, brushing, and flossing is your best defense against dental problems. Embracing these practices will not only improve your oral health but also enhance your quality of life.