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Published: 20 June 2023

How to floss: step-by-step & video

Author: Dr Gemma Wheeler, BDS (Leave a comment)
How to floss: step-by-step & video 1

The exact approach you take to floss your teeth will vary slightly depending on the type of flossing product used and the size of the gaps between teeth.

You should ask your dental professional for personalised advice on the best way to floss.  Your specific circumstances may require an approach different to other people.

If you have not been given specific instructions, the following steps and the video above explain how to use regular dental floss.

  1. Pull out and cut off the reel of floss about 6 inches (15cm)
  2. Wrap the ends around your two index fingers, and stretch it between them, so it is fairly taught, leaving about 2 inches between the two fingers.
  3. Gently position the floss in between teeth, flex the floss slightly so it cups around the edge of one tooth in an C-shape.  Pull the floss down between the teeth, making sure it follows the contour of the tooth. Pull it down to the gum level, it will go slightly under. Repeat this for the tooth on the other side of that same gap.
  4. Repeat this for the tooth on the other side of that same gap.
  5. Repeat this process for all teeth and gaps in the mouth.
  6. Dispose of the floss.

How to floss your back teeth

Flossing back teeth uses the same technique as above. Make sure you are cleaning the teeth on both sides of the gap.

Because back teeth have a larger gap between them, interdental brushes are more effective for cleaning these spaces. The brushes are also easier to reach in between the back teeth.

If you want to use floss, consider a flossing tool to help you reach, such as a flossette or a floss pick.

One tip to reach the back a little easier is to make sure you don’t open too wide. This is because of the way your jaw joint works.

Opening wide can mean that the actual jaw bone gets in the way when trying to brush and clean. By closing a little bit, you can find that you have more room for cleaning.

This also relaxes the cheek and soft tissues which will also make it easier to clean.

How to use floss picks

The floss you use can also be attached to a device to hold the floss. These are most commonly called floss picks, but there are different options:

  • Floss holder/floss harp - pre cut floss is held between two arms.
  • Floss picks/flossette - floss holder with a pick on the other end. 

When using these, the handle helps you position with floss between the teeth. It also makes it easier to pull the floss in a C-shape around the tooth.

The technique is mostly the same as with normal floss. Make sure you clean the tooth each side of the gap.

Remove the debris from the floss between each tooth. Dispose of the floss after use. In many cases, this will mean throwing away the holder and the floss. But there are some reusable handles where only the floss is disposed of each time.

oral b glide floss pick

How to use a floss threader

A floss threader is a handle in the shape of a small plastic needle, with an eye for fitting floss through. 

Use these around braces to get the floss between the bracket and the tooth, before then pulling the floss down between the teeth.

Floss threaders are also useful for cleaning around bridges, and can be used to direct the floss underneath the bridge.

floss threader

Why flossing is important

Floss is an interdental cleaning aid, and is designed to be pulled down between two teeth. 

It should slide over the contact point where the two teeth meet, and down to the gum level. This action physically removes plaque and food debris. 

Interdental cleaning is important to keep your mouth clean, prevent dental diseases, and protect any dental work you have.

Flossing keeps your mouth clean 

Toothbrushing only removes 60% of plaque from your teeth. The majority of what is left behind is stuck between the teeth.

This plaque is the direct cause for both tooth decay and gum disease. Removing plaque build up is important to keep your mouth clean.

Marchesan et al, Ng and Lim, and Worthington et al reviewed the relevant evidence, and say:

  • Interdental cleaning removes more plaque than only using a brush.
  • Interdental cleaning prevents gum disease.
  • Interdental cleaning prevents tooth decay. 

Additional cleaning is also important for preventing bad breath (halitosis) and preventing tartar build up. Without tartar build up, you are less likely to suffer from staining on your teeth.

Flossing, and the alternatives, will remove the plaque from around the edges of crowns and bridges. This prevents decay, the most common cause of failure of crowns and bridges according to Briggs et al.

Ultimately, flossing prevents tooth loss from dental decay and gum disease. Studies show that people who use interdental cleaning aids have more natural teeth than those who rely on brushing alone.

Tartar buildup on inside of teeth

Other health benefits of flossing

It’s not just your oral health that benefits from flossing. 

There are well-documented links between oral health and your general health.

The benefits of flossing for your general health include the relationship between gum disease and heart disease, stroke and diabetes. There are also links between healthy gums and a healthy pregnancy. 

How to start flossing (and stick to it) 

If you are new to interdental cleaning, it can seem like a daunting task. Before you start:

How to floss: step-by-step & video 2

How to choose the correct flossing device 

The first thing to do is to try interdental brushes. These are the most effective at cleaning and are the go-to option recommended by the European Federation of Periodontology 2020 Guidelines and British Society of Periodontology.

At the time of writing, the Australian equivalent, The Australian Society of Periodontology, doesn’t have a document of recommendations like these.

Choose floss for any gaps that are too small to clean using brushes as they are not as good at cleaning as interdental brushes.

With that said, you need to choose a tool which you feel happy using.

It is best for you to go to your own dentist or hygienist. They will make you your own personalised plan that is unique for your mouth.

Once you’ve decided on the tool(s) you’re going to use, see our buying guides, and our guide to making flossing a regular habit. 

Buying guides

Eco-friendly flossing options

When picking the best option for you, the environment might also be a concern.

At Electric Teeth, we like to give you options and let you make your own decision. We are investigating environmentally friendly options and will let you know when we can give more advice about it.

In the meantime, things to consider about environmentally friendly options include:

  • What materials are used - new plastics, recycled materials, plant based materials?
  • Is the product vegan or cruelty free?
  • Is the product single use or reusable?
  • Can the product be recycled?
  • Is the product compostable?
  • What packaging is used?
Selection of eco-friendly interdental cleaning products

Common problems when flossing

Make sure you are using the best flossing technique. 

It’s normal to find the flossing technique difficult. This is because it requires some skill. Keep practicing and you will get there.

That said, there are some problems that happen during and after flossing. People ask me time and time again about what is normal when flossing. See the Electric Teeth Guides for:

Author: Dr Gemma Wheeler, BDS

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