Anyone who’s ever been to a dentist, for any reason, has heard the mantra: brush and floss, brush and floss, brush and floss. Brushing your teeth twice a day is effective for cleaning the parts of your teeth that you can see (and others see when you smile). But part of each tooth is below the gumline, and there’s usually little space between teeth. That’s where flossing comes in. Flossing cleans between your teeth and in the space at your gumline, where your toothbrush — even an electric one — can’t reach. If you don’t remove the plaque that accumulates in these “hidden” spaces, tartar builds up, and over time, can lead to gum disease. That’s why it’s important for your oral health to take care of all parts of your teeth by making flossing as much a part of your daily oral health routine as brushing is.

Maybe you’ve always flossed your teeth and maybe you’ve only now decided it’s a good idea to floss regularly. Either way, you may have some questions about flossing that we at Stiles Dental Care can answer.

The Best Way to Floss?
The short answer is whatever way works for you. But there are guidelines to follow for the most thorough and effective way to floss. It’s simple.

  1. Start with a piece of floss about 18” long.
  2. Wind it around the middle fingers or index fingers of your hands, leaving a section of floss that you can slide in-between two teeth. (Make sure it’s long enough to reach your molars.)
  3. Draw the floss to the gumline, then slide it under each of the teeth it’s between.
  4. Follow this by sliding the floss up and down between the two teeth.
  5. Pull out the floss, wind out a new section, and repeat the process until you’ve flossed every tooth.

Of course, sometimes simple isn’t. Many people find a long strand of thin floss hard to maneuver. If that keeps you from establishing a solid flossing routine, you’ll be glad to know there are alternatives. Waxed floss slips between teeth and under the gumline with less effort than unwaxed floss, so choosing a different floss may be all you need to do. However, nowadays, there are even more choices.

Pre-threaded picks fitted with a strand of floss make a long strand unnecessary. Dental picks and brush picks can slide between your teeth like floss, and are handy when you’re traveling or when a piece of food gets caught while you’re eating. There’s even an appliance called a water flosser that uses a flush of water to rinse out food particles and bacteria, meaning you never need to finesse a strand of floss at all.

If you haven’t been flossing, you may notice that, at first, your gums bleed a little. This is normal, and it lets you know that you’re getting to the area that needs to be cleaned. Once you establish a routine, the slight bleeding will cease.

How Much Time Will It Take to Floss?
This short answer is as long as you need to. The time the average person takes to brush their teeth is about three minutes, not counting flossing. So how much more time do you need to add flossing to your routine? If you’re just starting to floss, you should take as much time as you need to become comfortable with the process. But most dentists agree that once you’ve mastered the technique, flossing your teeth shouldn’t take more than two minutes. The time it takes to answer an email. Check your calendar. Pour a cup of tea. Only two minutes to do something that will help keep your teeth and gums healthy and strong for your entire lifetime.

Two minutes may not sound like much time, but you’ll want to use it as a general rule, because you can floss for too long and too often. While it may seem that if a little bit is good, more is better, flossing too much – either too often or for too long at one time – can harm rather than help, by irritating, or even damaging, your gums.

When Should I Floss?
The most convenient and the most obvious time to floss is when you’re brushing your teeth. But it may come as a surprise to learn that though you’ve always heard “brush and floss,” it’s actually recommended that you do your flossing first. According to one study, flossing before you brush is more effective at removing plaque between your teeth than flossing post-brushing. And it’s also better at keeping an optimal concentration of fluoride on your tooth enamel. In the end, though, the best time to floss is whenever you want to floss and have the time to do it well. Just make sure it’s once a day.

Can I Floss If I Wear Braces?
Yes, you can. But flossing with braces presents a unique set of challenges, so you may want to check with us for advice on getting around the wires. Waxed floss works better than unwaxed floss, and a water flosser may be a worthwhile investment if you’ll be wearing braces for a typical period of time.

At Stiles Dental Care, we are dedicated to helping you maintain good oral health. If you’re still undecided about the benefits of flossing or struggling with finding the best technique for you, contact us. We’d be happy to help you discover how easily flossing can fit into your life. It’s never too late to start.