The Right Way to Floss

Dentists say flossing is as important as brushing. Here's how to do it correctly.

From the WebMD Archives

It's a simple piece of string, sometimes flavored, often waxed. Wrap 18 inches or so around your finger, and you have a powerful tool that can help prevent cavities and give your overall health a big boost.

Dental floss dislodges food particles trapped between the teeth and under the gums where toothbrushes can't reach. Left unchecked, bacterial buildup can lead to cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.

If that's not scary enough, Jyoti Srivastava, DDS, a New York City dentist with advanced training in tooth replacement and restoration, points out that "gum disease is an inflammatory disorder that can contribute to major problems throughout the body." Recent studies suggest links between advanced gum disease and diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and stomach cancer, though more research is needed.

If you practiced ideal dental hygiene, you'd be flossing after every meal. "Do that and you'll have an absolutely immaculate mouth," says Srivastava, "but we know that's not practical for most people -- so we hope our patients floss once daily." Bedtime, rather than morning, is the better choice for once-a-day flossers.

"Your salivary flow is very low when you're sleeping," Srivastava says. "So for those 7 or 8 hours you're in bed, you're not washing away the bacteria teeming in your mouth."

Dentists recommend spending 2 minutes brushing your teeth. With practice, flossing will take you an additional minute. Begin on the upper right, go all the way around to the upper left, and then go from the lower left to the lower right.

If you're so tired at the end of your day that you can devote only 60 seconds to dental hygiene, what do you do? Floss. "I'm not suggesting you skip brushing, but it's absolutely essential to floss every day," says Srivastava.

What Kind of Floss?

Stand in the dental aisle of your drugstore, and you'll see a variety of dental floss. Srivastava breaks down the choices with these tips.

Waxed vs. unwaxed floss. They're equally effective at removing tooth debris, but "I strongly recommend waxed. It's much easier to slide between your teeth and much less likely to shred," Srivastava says.

Continued

Flavored wax. It won't add calories, so if you like how dental floss flavored with mint or cinnamon leaves your mouth feeling fresher, that's a great choice for you.

Ribbon or tape vs. fine floss. Opt for wider floss. "Ribbon or tape floss covers a larger portion of the tooth, so it does a better job of cleaning," Srivastava says. "It also feels more comfortable in your hand and is less likely to cut your gums."

Floss picks. These disposable, pre-threaded floss-holders can help you reach into the back corners of your mouth. They're also great for flossing on the go.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS on September 21, 2013

Sources

SOURCES:

Jyoti Srivastava, DDS, prosthodontist, New York.

Fishchman, S. Periodontology 2000, October 1997.

United States Patent Office: “Improvement in Thread Holder,” Patent No. 147, 987, Feb. 24, 1874.

American Dental Association: “Floss and Other Interdental Cleaners.”

American Academy of Periodontology: “New Reports Confirm Perio-Systemic Connection and Outline Clinical Recommendations.”

News Release, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

NYU Cancer Institute "NYUCI Scientists Study Inflammation, Bacteria, and Cancer."   

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