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Common Flossing Mistakes To Avoid

Flossing is a type of interdental cleaning. 

It is the use of floss to clean the gaps between the teeth. There are other options too, such as water flossers and interdental brushes.

The American Dental Association (ADA)  and the American Academy of Periodontology all recommend flossing at least once a day.

Used in addition to good toothbrushing, it will remove plaque. This removal of plaque will protect you against gum disease and tooth decay. Flossing also has some surprising benefits to your general health.

There is some technique to using floss, and you can learn how to floss here.

Many people do get flossing wrong in a variety of ways.

In this article I outline the mistakes I tend to encounter, and how to avoid them.

People Give Up Flossing When Their Gums Bleed

bleeding gums

As a dentist, lots of people tell me they give up flossing because their gums bleed.

But do not stop flossing if your gums are bleeding!

The gums are most likely bleeding because you have plaque induced gingivitis. Some other reasons your gums bleed when flossing include loose fillings or even vitamin deficiencies.

But it’s most likely to be because of a buildup of plaque affecting the gums. This is especially true if you are new to flossing.

Keep going with daily flossing, or the schedule recommended by your dental professional. The bleeding should improve within 7 days. If they continue to bleed a lot after a couple of weeks of daily flossing, seek professional advice.

Not Holding Floss Tight Enough Around The Tooth

This is a technique problem. You have probably not even been taught how to floss your teeth.

You will get the most benefit if you use floss in a c-shape around the tooth. 

The aim is to remove the plaque from the teeth, not to attack the gums. Holding the floss tight will stop the floss snapping between the teeth and injuring the gums.

You also need to floss the teeth on BOTH sides of the gap – one on the way up and one on the way down!

See our video above on how to floss correctly.

Using Floss As The Only Form Of Cleaning 

blue tepe, floss threader and floss pick next to each other

Flossing is fine if your gums are relatively healthy.

But floss might not cut it if you have more advanced gum disease. It’s also not going to help much if you have large gaps between your teeth.

Actually, recent evidence reviews (e.g. Ng and Lim and Worthington et al) show interdental brushes to be a more effective way of cleaning. You can consider these as an alternative to flossing.

And do not stop brushing just because you are flossing!

Interdental cleaning is part of a whole oral health care regime. This includes:

People Floss Too Quickly

floss in between teeth

Good flossing technique takes time.

It is a boring task so people rush it. But if you rush the process, you won’t fully remove all the plaque. This means you won’t get the full benefit.

Interdental brushes may be a quicker option for interdental cleaning. And the amount of time flossing takes will reduce as you get more practice.

Using The Same Section Of Floss Between All Teeth

Oral-B 3D Luxe Floss in its casing

The purpose of floss is to remove plaque and food debris.

A different section should be used between each tooth, even if it is only moving on a little bit down the line.

If using interdental brushes or a flossette, rinse these regularly during use.

This will prevent cross contamination between areas.

People Stop Flossing When Their Gums Stop Bleeding

Inside of teeth with some blood on gums

I have explained why your gums bleed when flossing. We also know that flossing is one of the main ways to reverse bleeding gums caused by gingivitis.

Some people think they are “cured” when their gums stop bleeding. Because of this, they stop flossing.

Without flossing, the plaque will build up again, and gingivitis will return. It’s a vicious circle.

Yes, flossing will give you healthy gums. But it’s important to keep up the habit to prevent gum disease developing in the future.

Using Too Much Floss

Oral-B Floss Tape in box

To make it easier to wrap around the fingers, people often pull off a long stretch of floss.

But having too long a stretch of floss between the fingers will make flossing more difficult. It is also wasteful.

You need no more than about 6 inches/15cm of floss to clean effectively. You will still have enough for a clean bit between each tooth.

People Avoid Flossing Around Crowns And Bridges

Interdental brush being used on scientific teeth model

Patients tell me they are scared to floss around crowns and bridges. They think flossing will pull them off. Or they struggle to get floss underneath a bridge.

But interdental cleaning removes plaque from around the edges of crowns and bridges. This prevents the decay process.

It is wise to do this well, because Briggs et al found the most common cause of failure of crowns and bridges is dental decay.

Special threaded floss and interdental brushes are good if you can’t get floss between the teeth where there are crowns and bridges.

Thinking All Floss Is Equal

floss threader

All floss is not created equal!

Floss can be braided, like a rope. This is multifilament floss.

Or it can be a tape. This monofilament floss is often made with PTFE.

And then you have the option of waxed or unwaxed.

Floss can also be used on its own or held in a flossette. Even these flossettes can be single use or reusable.

There are many different types of floss available. This is good news because it means there will be a right option out there for you.

And if flossing isn’t for you, consider other interdental cleaning methods. Water flossers and interdental brushes are easier to use and are often more effective at cleaning.

Avoiding Flossing Because It Is Bad For The Environment

Selection of eco-friendly interdental cleaning products

There is no avoiding the fact the oral health care makes use of single use materials. Many options you use once and then they go to landfill.

A recent study looked at how environmentally friendly different toothbrushes are.

There hasn’t been a floss equivalent yet.

But there are some ways to keep your footprint to a minimum:

  • Opt for compostable floss materials, such as those made from silk.
  • If using a floss holder, pick a compostable material handle. Even better is to use a reusable handle.
  • Recycle plastic handles and other dental accessories e.g via Terracycle.

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.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler, BDS (Hons)

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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