Floss comes in a variety of materials and colors, but essentially, it is a very thin cord you hold between fingers of each hand and insert between adjoining teeth. The cord, or floss, helps loosen debris by gently moving it up and down and back and forth between the teeth.
Flossing is a proven method for loosening debris from hard-to-reach surfaces of your teeth and gum lines. Next to brushing, flossing is a highly effective method for removing plaque on tooth surfaces your brush can't reach very well.
Another benefit of flossing is increasing blood circulation in your gums. Gum stimulation is a necessary means of keeping your gum tissues healthy; strong gums are the foundation of your teeth.
Our office recommends that you practice flossing once a day. Many people find that flossing at night is an easy bedtime routine; moreover, nighttime flossing helps to protect your teeth during sleep, when harmful plaque can do a lot of damage.
Dental floss comes in a variety of materials, colors, and even flavors. Waxed varieties are slipperier, allowing people with extremely tight spaces between their teeth to floss more easily. Popular flavors of floss include wintergreen and cinnamon. Waxed floss does tend to fray more than unwaxed floss.
A type of material called wide floss can be effective for people with large spaces between their teeth, or for people with delicate bridge work.
Floss can be purchased in small self-dispensing boxes. Floss can also be purchased in special, single-use holders, a useful invention people who have a hard time wrapping floss around their fingers, including those with dexterity problems or arthritis.
Most people who floss wrap 1-2 inches of floss around a finger on each hand, and use the floss in between on their teeth. The important thing is that you leave plenty of floss in between to allow you to maneuver inside your mouth.
One effective way is to break off about a foot of floss. Wrap one end of the floss a few times around the middle finger of each hand. You can use your forefinger and thumbs to maneuver the floss inside your mouth.
Press the floss in between two teeth and gently press downward (or upward if doing an upper set of teeth). Next, glide the floss up and down a few times against the surfaces of both teeth, carefully doing so at and below the gum line as well. Repeat this procedure for each tooth, taking up the slack when floss becomes worn or frayed.
Don't be alarmed if your gums slightly bleed the first time you floss. This is normal and will cease when your gums become used to flossing.
Those who have a hard time holding on to a piece of floss or a toothbrush can try supplementing the toothbrush handle with a rubber handle grip or ball, or even lengthening the handle with a stick or piece of plastic.
Floss can also be tied into a tiny loop on either side, making it easier to grasp and control the floss with your fingers.
There are several alternatives to flossing for those who find it too difficult, too painful (sensitive gums or gum disease) or ineffective (those people with braces or delicate bridge work). But remember one thing: Never use a toothpick as a substitute for flossing. Toothpicks can tear delicate gum tissue and may damage existing dental restorations.
One popular flossing alternative is called a water pick, or irrigator.
Water picks use powerful tiny bursts of water to blast away food particles and other debris in hard-to-reach areas of your mouth. Dentists use professional-grade water picks when preparing a tooth for restoration, or in general cleaning and exams.
People with painful gum disease or highly sensitive gums may find water picks useful for supplementing their brushing regimen. And people with orthodontia, including braces, have found water picks quite useful because toothbrush bristles often get stuck.
Antibacterial rinses (over-the-counter and by prescription) are somewhat effective.