Back to Basics: Effective Flossing

shutterstock_1083892You know how it goes: you visit the dental office, and your dentist tells you to floss more often. Perhaps your dentist finds a spot of mild gum disease, giving you even more reason to start flossing regularly. The truth is, you really can’t maintain long-term oral health without flossing. Brushing and using mouthwash play a big role in a healthy smile, but nothing gets between teeth and below the gum line like flossing.

Part of the problem for some is that they don’t know how to floss properly. Many people think they’re supposed to pop the floss in and out between teeth and use the floss as a way to simply dislodge pieces of food that have become stuck. In reality, flossing helps remove the invisible bacteria that live on your teeth and around your gums. That’s why flossing every day is so vital. You might not see anything on the string of floss when you’re done, but that doesn’t mean the floss isn’t working. In fact, flossing regularly can help you avoid the buildup of that white, gooey stuff (a mixture of mucus and bacteria known as materia alba to your dentist) that you might sometimes see on your floss if it’s been a while.

So, now that you know why you should floss every day (yes — every day!), let’s talk about the best techniques to get the job done well.

Flossing 101

First, wind the floss around your middle fingers, not your index fingers. Your index fingers need to be free to act as guides for the floss. Wind the floss so there’s a one- to two-inch section between your fingers.

Keeping the floss pulled taunt, use your index fingers to lead the floss between your teeth. Be gentle — don’t pop the floss in between teeth, but do it slowly.

Once the floss is between teeth, lead it slowly up and down, pressing against the sides of each tooth. Pull the floss around the curve of each tooth so that all the sides are scrubbed. Lead the floss down below the gum line slowly. This part is especially important. Part of the reason flossing is so essential is that dental floss can get below the gum line in ways that brushing alone cannot.

When you’re done flossing between two teeth, move on to the space between the next two teeth with a clean section of floss.

Make sure you floss behind your back molars as well!

Gum disease causes gum and bone loss, eventually leading to tooth loss. Floss every day to help yourself avoid complex dental care problems in the future!