How do you clean between your child's teeth? Your toothbrush can't reach this area but it is just as important and should be done wherever teeth touch together. Dental floss removes food particles and plaque from the tight spaces between your teeth, where toothbrushes cannot reach and also keeps gums healthy and strong. Let's help guide you through the steps to flossing effectively and trying to make it just as fun as the toothbrush!
Why Is Flossing Important?
Before we dive into the "how," let's quickly review the "why." Flossing is essential because it:
Prevents gum disease: Flossing removes plaque buildup between your teeth, which can lead to gum inflammation, gingivitis (reversible gum disease) and eventually, periodontitis (irreversible gum disease).
Reduces bad breath: By eliminating trapped food particles and bacteria, flossing helps keep your breath fresh.
Prevents cavities: Flossing prevents the formation of cavities between your teeth by removing debris and bacteria.
Improves overall oral health: Regular flossing is key to preventing serious oral health issues and ensuring a beautiful smile.
Step-by-Step Guide to Proper Flossing
Now, let's get into the nitty-gritty of how to floss your teeth like a pro:
Choose the Right Floss: Select a floss that suits your preferences and needs. Dental floss comes in various types, including waxed, unwaxed, flavored, and different thicknesses. Floss sticks or reusable floss holder aids also work, particularly if you find flossing your child's teeth difficult or they have trouble with string floss.
Begin with Enough Floss: Cut a piece of floss about 12-18 inches long. This allows you to have enough to wrap your fingers on each side and use fresh sections as you move between teeth.
Wrap Around Your Fingers: Take about an inch of floss and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving a couple of inches of floss between them. If you use too large of a space, then you won't be able to place the floss between your teeth well.
Secure the Floss: Hold the floss firmly between your thumbs and index fingers. Your fingers should be about an inch apart.
Slide Gently Between Teeth: Guide the floss gently between your teeth. Be cautious not to snap or force the floss, as this can injure the gums.
Form a "C" Shape: Once the floss is between your teeth, curve it into a "C" shape around one tooth and move it up and down gently. This allows you to clean the sides of the tooth and remove any debris. The "C" Shape cupping should be achieved whether using fingers or a floss stick.
Slide, Don't Snap: As you move from tooth to tooth, use a fresh section of floss if you notice the floss shred or if there is yucky plaque from the previous section.
Don't Forget the Back: Don't neglect the teeth at the back of your mouth. Use the same technique to floss your molars.
Rinse and Repeat: After flossing, rinse your mouth to remove any remaining debris and bacteria as needed.
How Often Should You Floss?
Ideally, you should floss your teeth at least once a day. The best time to floss is generally before bedtime so plaque does not breed cavity-causing germs and gum inflammation overnight, but it can also be done after meals to remove stuck food particles. If your gums still bleed after flossing with proper technique, it may be the signs of gingivitis and you may need to call your dentist for follow-up.
Choosing the Right Floss:
Waxed vs Unwaxed:
Floss can be purchased with wax or no wax - generally speaking, wax-free floss will shred easier and is often less comfortable for those who have teeth that touch together more tightly. As a non-forgiving floss, it will shred more easily also on tooth decay or dental work that is not aging well so you may see your dentist have both kinds ready for checkup visits.
Ribbon versus Round:
Floss can be either thin (like wrapping paper ribbon) or round in shape. Generally speaking, ribbon floss is good for those who have difficulty passing floss without space by the gums where round floss is better for teeth that have some space near the gums. Most floss sticks will use round floss so if you have trouble with floss sticks, then switching to a floss aid that will accept ribbon floss may help with improving comfort and access.
String vs Floss Picks:
Floss sticks / picks are great for helping others floss and if you have difficulty getting your fingers wrapped around your own floss for daily flossing. Using regular floss (without an aid) requires more careful technique for flossing to provide benefit in reduction of cavity risk and gum health promotion. If you have difficulty with regular string floss, going with a "floss on a stick" or a floss aid that you can wrap your preferred floss around (also more early friendly compared to plastic floss picks) may be an option.
Thick, Fluffy, or Thin:
Floss can be thick, thin, fluffy or not fluffy. Fluffy, thicker floss is better for those with spacing between teeth where thinner floss may be better for teeth that touch tightly. Trying a variety of textures and thicknesses can be useful to find a balance between ease of flossing to remove the plaque and comfort. Sometimes fluffy floss is also called "expanding floss" which means it will get puffier when it hits moisture or your spit.
Flossing teeth might seem like a small step, but it plays a significant role in keeping the mouth healthy. Your rewards will be a fresh smile, fresher breath, and more successful dental checkups.