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A Guide to Proper Flossing Technique – Prevent Plaque Build-Up and Gum Disease

We all know flossing is important. Your dentist isn’t asking you about your flossing habits for nothing, after all. But what exactly is the correct way to floss, and how often should you floss?

Here’s a guide to help answer some of the most common questions people have about flossing, including the proper flossing technique and the importance of flossing your teeth on a regular basis.

The Importance of Flossing Regularly

Flossing should be part of your daily oral health care routine. You should also help your kids floss as part of their daily oral hygiene habits.

Flossing removes food particles and plaque from areas your toothbrush can’t reach, such as between your teeth and below the gum line. And by doing so, flossing helps to:

Prevent Plaque Build-Up

Food particles left behind in between the teeth and below the gum line will cause bacteria (plaque) to build up. Within 24 to 36 hours, this plaque will harden into tartar (calculus), which can only be removed with professional dental cleanings.

As this bacteria continues to build, it eats away at the tooth enamel and can lead to tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease.

If bacteria is left to reach the pulp of a tooth, a root canal treatment will eventually be required. And if the tooth becomes too severely decayed, it can lead to tooth loss.

Prevent Periodontal Disease

Gum disease, aka periodontal disease, is an inflammatory disorder that can cause major health problems throughout your body when bacteria enters the bloodstream.

Periodontal disease can also affect the supportive structure that holds your teeth in place, leading to recessed gums and bone loss. In advanced stages, your teeth can become loose and fall out.

Maintain Healthy Gums

Since regular flossing removes harmful bacteria that irritates and inflames the gums and leads to gum disease, you will have healthier gums that aren’t swollen or won’t bleed by flossing frequently.

Prevent Bad Breath

Food particles and bacteria cause bad breath if left in the mouth. So, to avoid having bad breath, remove leftover food particles and bacteria with regular flossing and brushing. And don’t forget to brush your tongue as well.

How Often Do I Need to Floss?

Since food particles stuck between the teeth lead to plaque build-up – which then leads to tooth decay and gum disease – you need to floss every day to remove food particles and plaque from your teeth.

Ideally, you would floss after every meal. But at the very least, floss once a day to maintain good oral health.

What Type of Floss Should I Use?

While some floss is easier to use than others, the type of floss you should use is completely up to you. As long as you follow the proper flossing technique described below, it doesn’t matter what type of floss you use.

Here are some of the most popular types of floss used along with the pros and cons of each:

  • Multifilament nylon floss is available in waxed and un-waxed versions and has many strands of nylon that can sometimes shred and tear between teeth with tight contact points.
  • Waxed floss is much easier to use since it glides smoothly and won’t shred as easily.
  • Single filament PTFE floss glides easily between teeth and won’t tear or shred.
  • Wider floss, such as ribbon or tape, is more effective at cleaning teeth compared to fine floss since it covers a larger portion of the tooth. Wider floss is also more comfortable in your hands and is less likely to cut your gums.
  • Floss picks are disposable, pre-threaded floss holders that are useful for flossing on the go and reaching the back corners of your mouth.
  • Electric flossers are a useful alternative for those who have trouble using regular floss and reaching the back of their mouth.
  • Orthodontic floss and floss threaders can be used to floss around braces and dental appliances without getting the floss caught.

When is the Best Time to Floss?

The best time to floss is at bedtime when brushing your teeth. Flossing your teeth at the end of the day will ensure you remove any food particles and bacteria from your teeth before bed.

Since your salivary glands slow down when you sleep, there isn’t enough saliva to effectively wash away the bacteria in your mouth. So, by removing as much bacteria as possible before bed, you can avoid tooth decay and gum disease.

Tips for Flossing Properly

Here is the proper flossing technique to effectively remove plaque from your teeth. Remember, before grabbing your floss, be sure to wash your hands, so you don’t get any bacteria in your mouth.


Wind 18 inches of floss around the index or middle finger on one hand and a small amount of floss around the index or middle finger of your other hand.

Pinch the floss between your thumbs and index fingers, allowing one or two inches in length between your thumbs to floss with.


While holding the floss tautly, use your thumbs to direct the floss between your upper teeth. And use your index fingers to guide the floss between your lower teeth.


Gently glide the floss between the teeth in a zig-zag motion, being careful not to let the floss snap or pop between teeth.


Make a C shape with the floss, wrapping it around the inside of the tooth. And slide the floss up and down below the gum line, against the tooth surface, and along the backside of the tooth as well.

When moving on to the next tooth, unravel a fresh section of floss from the finger with the larger amount and wrap the used floss around the finger on the other hand, using your thumb as a guide.

By following this proper flossing technique, you can effectively remove harmful bacteria and food particles from those hard-to-reach places on your teeth. And with regular daily flossing as part of your oral hygiene routine, you can maintain good oral health by preventing tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath, and other oral health problems.