Here's the Right Way to Floss That'll Make Your Next Trip to the Dentist More Pleasant

Have you been flossing right this whole time? Follow these steps and your dentist might actually be impressed.

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Even if you floss religiously as part of your nightly routine, there’s a chance you’re not doing it as effectively as possible. Are you getting all the way down between each pair of teeth? Are you using the right flossing motion? Do you get a little too aggressive on your gums? Dr. Julius Manz, director of the Dental Hygiene Program at San Juan College and spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA), is about to walk through exactly how to floss those pearly whites. Because if you’re taking the time to floss everyday, you might as well do it right.

Why Everyone Should Floss

Yes, brushing your teeth is important, but there’s something brushing can’t accomplish on its own. “When you brush, the brush can’t get between your teeth,” Dr. Manz says. “It’s that area between the teeth—where the teeth are touching—we need to be able to clean. The simplest, easiest, and most efficient way to do that is with floss.”

Both flossing and brushing work to rid your teeth of plaque (among other things). Plaque is a collection of bacteria that starts to accumulate on the teeth, and over time it can harden and turn into tartar, which can harbor more plaque and lead to cavities, periodontal disease, and tooth loss later in life. “The only way to get rid of plaque is to mechanically remove it, whether that be with a brush or floss,” Dr. Manz says.

How Often Should You Floss?

Don’t worry, you don’t need to floss after every meal—unless you want to. “You can’t really over-floss, but flossing once a day is sufficient,” Dr. Manz says. As for when you floss, Dr. Manz assures it doesn’t really matter: “Floss when it’s most convenient for you.” For many, that means flossing teeth at night before brushing, but you may prefer to do it right after waking up or post-lunch.

How to Floss Properly Every Time

First, get yourself a long enough piece of floss (the ADA recommends about an 18-inch piece). Wind it around your middle fingers, then take each index finger, about one inch apart, and use them to get the floss down between your teeth.

To wiggle the floss down between your teeth, use a very gentle sawing motion. Once you’ve gotten down below the contact point (or the area where the teeth are literally touching), pull the floss into a C shape that almost wraps around one tooth at a time: “So you’re forcing the floss to form to the tooth.”

From there, forget the sawing motion—sawing back and forth at this point will cut your gums and damage the gum tissue, especially if you use too much pressure. With the floss in a C shape, gently bring it up-and-down against one tooth several times. Repeat on the adjacent tooth, and throughout the rest of your mouth.

If Your Gums Bleed When You Floss…

Haven’t flossed your teeth in a little while? You might experience some light bleeding from the gums—Dr. Manz assures that’s absolutely normal. However, if the bleeding continues or is pretty significant, go see your dentist. It may be a temporary sensitivity, but it could also be a symptom of more serious gum disease.

Different Types of Floss

Dr. Manz says to use whatever type of floss you prefer. “Most people will use a regular waxed floss—that usually works the best—but floss with a teflon coating works well and allows you to get down between the teeth more easily,” he says. If your teeth sit closely together, you might want a thinner, unwaxed nylon floss. But anyone with a little more space between each tooth might like a regular waxed floss that’s a bit thicker. It all comes down to comfort and preference.

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