Skip to main content

What is flossing?

Brushing teeth properly and consistently helps to remove most dental plaque, but brushing alone cannot remove plaque that is located in places that a toothbrush cannot reach—particularly in between teeth. In addition to removing plaque, flossing also helps to:

  • Remove debris that adheres to teeth and gums in between teeth
  • Polish tooth surfaces
  • Control bad breath

Flossing should be done at least once a day for two to three minutes each time to be most effective.

Types of floss

Regardless of what type of dental floss you are most comfortable using, the oral health benefits remain the same. Regular, consistent flossing is the single most important weapon against plaque—perhaps more important than the toothbrush. The different types of dental floss include:

  • Waxed and unwaxed
  • Flavored and unflavored
  • Wide and regular
  • Textured and smooth

Other instructions

Your dentist or other oral healthcare provider can provide a demonstration of any of the following flossing techniques. They include:

  • Spool method (also called the finger-wrap method)
    • Cut off a piece of floss that is approximately 18 to 20 inches in length. Lightly wrap each side of the piece of floss several times around each middle finger. Next, carefully maneuver the floss in between the teeth with your index fingers and thumbs in an up and down, not side-to-side, motion. It is best to bring the floss up and down, making sure to go below the gumline, bending it to form a "C" on the side of each tooth.
  • Loop method (also called the circle method)
    • Cut off a piece of floss that is approximately 18 inches long, and tie it securely in a circle. Next, place all of the fingers, except the thumb, within the loop. Then, use your index fingers to guide the floss through the lower teeth, and use your thumbs to guide the floss through the upper teeth, making sure to go below the gumline, bending it to form a "C" on the side of each tooth.

Flossing tools, such as a prethreaded flosser or floss holder may be helpful for people who are just learning how to floss, individuals with limited dexterity in their arms and/or hands, or those who are flossing the teeth of someone else (particularly a child or disabled person).

Oral irrigators are not considered a substitute for toothbrushing and flossing. These devices may be effective around orthodontic braces that retain food or in areas a toothbrush cannot reach. However, they do not remove plaque that contains harmful bacteria.