Flossing and cleaning between your teeth

Tooth decay and gum disease can be prevented! 

Usually, tooth decay and gum disease occur because teeth and gums are not properly cleaned. 

Your teeth are covered with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Plaque builds up after you eat and when you sleep. The bacteria in plaque turn the sugar in foods and drinks into acids. These acids attack the enamel, your tooth’s hard, outer layer. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down and lead to tooth decay and cavities. 

Clean between your teeth every day  

Even if you brush twice a day, there are places your toothbrush bristles can’t reach. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between teeth and under the gum line. Your dentist or hygienist can show you the right way to floss. It may feel clumsy at first, but don’t give up! It takes time to get the hang of it. 

1. Get the floss ready on your fingers. Break off a good amount of floss and wind most of it around your middle or index finger. Wind the rest of the floss around the same finger on your other hand. This finger will take up the used floss. 

2. Position the floss in between your teeth. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Guide the floss between your teeth, using a gentle rubbing motion. Don’t snap the floss into your gums. 

3. Curve the floss to hug the side of your tooth. When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it so that it hugs the side of one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth. 

4. Gently rub the side of the tooth. Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. As you rub the side of the tooth, move the floss away from the gum with up-and-down motions. 

5. Repeat these steps on the rest of your teeth. As you move from tooth to tooth, unwind the clean floss with one finger and take up the used floss with the finger on the other hand. Don’t forget the back side of the last tooth. 

If you haven’t been flossing, you may have sore or bleeding gums for the first few days that you floss. This should stop once the plaque is broken up and the bacteria are removed. If bleeding does not stop, see your dentist or hygienist. 

Hate to floss? Other ways to clean between your teeth 

Traditional string floss may not be the right method for you — and that’s okay! The best way to clean between your teeth is whichever way you will actually do every day. These types of between-the-teeth cleaners are also called interdental cleaners Here some other options: 

  • Pre-threaded floss holders. Convenient and great for on-the-go or if you have trouble holding floss between your fingers. 

  • Dental picks/brushes. Brushes are ideal for keeping orthodontic work like braces clean. Dental picks are made out of wood or plastic and specially designed to remove plaque and stimulate blood flow in your gums. 

  • Powered interdental cleaners. These may use a stream of water or string floss to clean between teeth and are a good option if you have trouble with your grip, have braces, or had other treatments like implants or bridges. 

 This ADA educational message displayed by permission. 

American Dental Association


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