Dental floss is a soft thread, made from either nylon or Teflon which is used to clean between the teeth. It is inserted into the space between the teeth and gums and moved in a series of up and down movements to remove food debris and plaque.
Flossing between the teeth prevents tooth decay and gum disease caused by the build up of plaque.
Dental floss is available in a variety of different forms which include waxed or unwaxed, flavoured or unflavoured and the thicker ‘dental tape’.
Why is it important to floss the teeth?
The teeth are under constant attack from plaque –a sticky film which contains bacteria and forms on the teeth. Plaque combines with sugars and starches present in certain foods and this results in the production of acid. This acid adheres to the teeth and over time, gradually dissolves the enamel.
This leads to dental cavities and gum irritation. If left untreated it can lead to periodontal gum disease and tooth loss.
If plaque is allowed to accumulate it then hardens and becomes a yellow or brown deposit called tartar. Tartar is a rough grained substance which encourages further growth of plaque.
This results in dental caries, and gum disease if it occurs beneath the gum line.
It is important to include flossing as part of a good dental hygiene in order to prevent the formation of plaque. This means flossing the teeth on a daily basis and using a mouthwash.
Many people do not realise the importance of using dental floss and assume that a toothbrush is sufficient for removing plaque. However, brushing the teeth alone cannot remove all traces of plaque and flossing needs to be undertaken to do just that. Flossing is a vital part of an oral care plan.
Types of dental floss
This is available in a variety of different formats which includes:
- Thin (string) floss
- Teflon floss
- Thick (‘dental tape’) floss
- Waxed and unwaxed floss
- Flavoured and unflavoured floss
There are advantages and disadvantages with all these types and personal preference also plays a part. Many people prefer the waxed floss as this type moves smoothly and easily between the teeth without the risk of fraying or catching on the teeth.
A good example of this is Crest Glide Floss which is considered to be a superior type of floss.
The thin variety of floss appeals to people whose teeth are tightly spaced together. This type of floss is able to move in between their teeth with the minimum of fuss.
Teflon floss is very similar in that it is supple, durable and shred-resistant. It glides in and out of the teeth very easily and is considered to be superior form of dental floss.
The ribbon-like ‘dental tape’ is a thicker type of floss which appeals to people whose teeth are widely set apart. They find this thicker type of floss easier and more effective at removing food debris and plaque.
Flavoured types of floss such as mint or cinnamon are chosen for the fact that they result in fresh breath and an overall pleasant taste in the mouth. An equally similar type of floss is combined with fluoride to offer extra protection against tooth decay and gum disease.
It is important that you find the right type of dental floss for you. Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to advise you about this and recommend a suitable type of floss for your teeth.
There is a series of ‘flossing aids’ which are designed for people who for a variety of reasons are unable to floss their teeth as per normal. This may be due to arthritis or a similar form of motor impairment but whatever the reason, they can use a special device to floss their teeth. These are often known as ‘preloaded flossers’.
- Flossing holders
- Flossing sticks/handles
- Power/vibrating flossers
Flossing holders, i.e. ‘Y’ or ‘F’ shaped flossers are handheld devices with two prongs (similar to a fork). A single length of floss runs between these prongs and is held firmly in place. The rest of the holder tapers into the shape of a toothpick.
This is used in the same way as the conventional form of flossing.
These are available in a range of shapes and colours and are designed for both adults and children.
Flossing sticks or handles are similar in form and function. They feature a long handle with a contoured grip which makes it ideal for arthritis sufferers. Another aspect is the small floss head which is disposable and can be replaced with a refill. This includes flavoured refills such as mint or cinnamon.
The long handle and small head (which swivels) work well in conjunction with each other and are especially designed to reach the back teeth. These teeth are very difficult to clean with ordinary floss but the long handle and movable floss head is able to reach these and so has no problem doing so.
The power/vibrating flosser works in a very similar way to an electric toothbrush. The vibration causes a subtle movement which enables the floss to easily access the space between the teeth and gums.
Another benefit of this device is the massaging effect on the gums. Many people find that not only does this device remove food debris but also soothes and massages the teeth and gums as well. Consider using a flossing aid if you have any form of physical impairment, have dental implants or wear a bridge or orthodontic brace.
The ideal flossing technique
People employ a variety of techniques for flossing their teeth but the following steps will guarantee maximum flossing effectiveness:
- Choose your preferred dental floss.
- Unwind about 16 inches (or 40 cm) of dental floss.
- Take hold of one end of the floss and wind it around the middle finger of your left hand and the other end around the middle finger on your right hand. If you prefer, wrap the floss around the index fingers on each hand.
- Take hold of the dental floss between thumb and finger and ensure that you have a taut one inch length of floss between both of your hands.
- Slide the dental floss in between your teeth. If you prefer to use an aid, e.g. flossing holder then insert this instead.
- Hold the floss firmly against a tooth and rub it against the tooth in a series of up and down movements. Be careful not to rub too forcefully as this may snap the floss or injure your gums.
- Make sure that you include the gum line as well.
- Repeat this process for all of your teeth and include the backside of your teeth as well. Use a new part of the floss for every tooth.
- Try and get into a rhythm with this: start with the top part of your mouth and work from left to right. Then repeat this for the bottom part of your mouth.
- Rinse out your mouth with water or a mouthwash to remove dislodged food debris.
- If you notice any problem with this, for example the floss becomes lodged between your teeth but it shouldn’t then visit your dentist.
Flossing and orthodontic braces
People who wear a brace will find that flossing takes longer to complete. It requires time and patience to do so but the end result is worth it.
It is particularly important to use dental floss if you wear a brace as it is very easy for food debris to become trapped under the metal wires and fittings. Choose waxed floss as this is less likely to become caught on any of the fittings or break.
Use the same sequence of steps as mentioned above but take extra care not to put excessive pressure on the wires of the brace. These delicate structures are liable to break if force is exerted upon them so avoid any heavy pressure.
If this proves to be difficult then ask your dentist for advice.
When should you floss?
It is good practice to floss your teeth twice a day or at the very least, once a day. Aim to do this after each time you brush your teeth and include it as part of a daily oral health routine.
Take as long as necessary in order to ensure that all food debris and plaque has been removed.
You may experience some soreness and bleeding the first time you use dental floss. This is completely normal and is a sign that the plaque deposits have been removed. This will ease after the first few times but if you still experience bleeding then see your dentist.
How much does dental floss cost?
Prices for dental floss vary according to the brand. Certain brands are more expensive than others although most types of floss cost on average around £2 to £3.
If flossing is not carried out or performed on an irregular basis then the results of this are likely to be tooth decay and/or gum disease. The cost of treating these far outweighs those of dental floss.