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How to Floss

Flossing daily removes plaque and other debris that brushing alone does not reach. By flossing your teeth daily, you increase the chances of keeping your teeth for a lifetime and reduce your risk of developing gum problems. It can even help you get rid of bad breath.[1] The benefits of flossing are almost endless, really, and anyone who isn't flossing is missing out.


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    Use the most effective dental floss. There are several varieties available and you can choose the one that best matches your personal preference, including waxed, unwaxed, flavored and unflavored. Here's what you need to know to make a decision about which type of floss is best for you:[2]
    • Floss comes in two basic forms:
      • Nylon (multifilament) floss. This floss is made up of many strands of nylon fabric, making this stringy and possible to break apart.[3] Nylon floss comes in waxed and unwaxed.
      • PTFE (monofilament) floss. This floss is made up of a single strand or thread, and glides in between even the tightest of spaces.[3]
    • If you have wider gaps between your teeth, then tape floss may work best.
    • Single-filament floss is slightly more expensive, but it will be able to slide between teeth more easily and will be less likely to shred. Each container of floss lasts a long time, so using non-nylon floss is a worthwhile investment.
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    Wrap the ends of an 18-inch to 24-inch section of floss around your middle fingers.
    • Many people like to floss after brushing. This will allow the toothbrush to start removing the stray particles of food from your teeth before you even begin to floss. However, brushing your teeth after flossing may allow more fluoride from the toothpaste to reach between teeth[4]
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    Hold the floss between your thumbs and forefingers of both hands. You should leave about 3-4 inches (7.5-9 cm) of the floss exposed. This is the area you'll be using to floss your teeth. Once you wrap the floss around your index fingers, you can grab it with your index fingers and thumbs. Your thumbs can be more helpful in flossing your upper teeth and your index fingers can be more helpful in flossing your bottom teeth.
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    Use your thumbs to floss your upper teeth. Use your index finger to floss your bottom teeth.
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    Gently slide the floss between your teeth. It doesn't matter which tooth you start with as long as you cover every tooth before you finish. However, most people like to start in the middle between the two top teeth or the two bottom teeth. Once you've picked an area, slide the floss gently between your tooth and the gum line. You should do this carefully instead of being too aggressive, or you'll increase the chances of bleeding or hurting your gums.
    • Do not snap the floss down into the gums. Think of it as gently rubbing the floss between the gum line and the teeth, not vigorously yanking it around.
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    Move the floss gently in a "C" motion when it makes contact with the gums and use a gentle up and down motion to clean the area. After you slide the floss between your teeth, you should curve it around the bone and let it dip below the gum line (ideally, it should dip about 2-3 millimeters down). Once the floss is in place, move it up and down to agitate the area carefully. This will help reach the contours of each tooth.
    • Additionally, floss in a back and forth motion to help scrape additional plaque and debris. When you're done, gently move the floss back out the way it came.
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    Repeat the process between each tooth. Make sure to floss your teeth one at a time -- don't wrap your floss around the gum of one tooth as well as the gum of another. This will make the process less precise, and you'll be more likely to hurt your gums. Clean floss can be acquired by unraveling the extra floss that is wrapped around the index finger. Make sure you use a new piece of floss for each tooth. If you're really getting in there and run out of clean floss, pull out some new floss to finish the process.
    • You may experience some bleeding in your gums. This is a sign that your gums actually need to be flossed more often. Bleeding gums often discourage people from flossing because they don't want to deal with the pain, but you should know that your gum bleeding and swelling should go down once you make a true habit of flossing.
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    Don't forget the backs of your rear molars. Gum disease and tooth decay frequently occur on the back teeth. It can be a little bit harder to get in there, but you shouldn't neglect this crucial part of flossing. Gently slide the floss between your rear molars and your gums, and carefully pull both sides of the floss toward you as you agitate the area. Most gum disease and decay occurs in the back of the mouth, where fewer people floss.[5]
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    Unwind new floss from one hand to the other as you go, so that you are flossing with a fresh piece of floss.
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    Rinse your mouth out with mouthwash or water when you're done flossing. After you floss, rinsing out your mouth can help you remove any stray particles that were nearly dislodged from your gums, or which you were able to remove but which were left in your mouth. This will also help give your mouth a fresh, clean feeling.
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    Floss your teeth at least once every day. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests flossing for 2 to 3 minutes, but even 60 seconds of flossing daily can significantly improve your gum health. Most people floss before bed. If you know you've had a meal that led you to have more food stuck in your teeth than usual (such as having corn on the cob for lunch), then you can floss earlier, too, to get out the stray particles of food. However, you don't want to overdo the flossing, either, or you may damage your gums. Just once a day should be the perfect amount.
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    Consider other options if you can't or don't want to floss the traditional way. Flossing significantly lowers your likelihood of gum disease and decay, making it an essential part of your hygienic routine. If you can't floss the traditional way, try flossing with:
    • Floss holders, small Y-shaped devices that hold floss. For those who aren't coordinated enough to handle traditional floss.
    • "Superfloss," which expands in larger spaces and contracts to fit through smaller spaces. Super floss may be beneficial for people with wipe gaps between several of their teeth.
    • Floss threaders, which make it easier to work around any dental work that you might have gotten.
    • Consider using a water flosser in addition to flossing. A water flosser, also known as a water pick or an oral irrigator, is a device that aims a stream of water at your teeth. It can help remove particles of food from your teeth and can also help reduce gum disease as well as bleeding. It can also make the process a bit more fun. However, don't listen to the studies that say a water flosser can serve as a substitute for flossing; it can work in addition to flossing, but should not be used as a substitute.[6]


  • Dental floss is the most widely used tool for flossing, but there are many other interdental items available (i.e. floss holders or picks) that will achieve the same results.
  • Wash your hands before and after flossing your teeth.
  • Brush and floss before bed, especially if you only clean your teeth once per day.
  • The fluoride in toothpaste has a better chance of reaching between teeth if you floss before brushing.
  • You can buy some flavor floss like mint or bubblegum if you are afraid that the floss tastes weird or like plastic!
  • Proper dental hygiene may reduce your risk of heart disease, according to an article published by the Journal of Periodontology, .
  • If you are caring for another person's teeth, such as a child [7] or an elderly or disabled person [8] the guides linked here can help.
  • Experts are divided on whether to brush or floss first. One argument runs that brushing first helps remove bacteria that the floss might push below the gum line. One opposing argument runs that the floss loosens the plaque and the brush then removes it.[9] The most important part is to brush and floss daily and keep your teeth clean.
  • If you have braces[10], bridges, or other such items in your mouth, ask your dentist or orthodontist for instructions on brushing and flossing them properly.
  • Use waxed floss if you have any trouble slipping the floss between your teeth. [11]
  • If holding the floss or reaching to the back is difficult, try a floss holder, usually a Y-shaped device with a knob to loop the floss around. [12]


  • Your gums may bleed for a few days until the plaque layer is broken up, bacteria are removed, and your gums heal.
  • Do not use a strand of dental floss more than once. The floss will become frayed, bacteria will accumulate, and the floss will lose its effectiveness.
  • If your gums are hurting after you floss, try to massage them gently with your fingers on either side of the teeth or tooth in question.
  • If bleeding is severe or continues after the first week of flossing, call your dental professional. Bleeding gums may have to do with other medical conditions. [13]

Things You'll Need

  • Dental Floss
  • Plaque stainer - to see where a lot of plaque is (optional)

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