The value of flossing

Brushing teeth properly and regularly helps remove most dental plaque. But brushing alone can't remove plaque found in places that a toothbrush can't reach -- such as between teeth and under the gums. In addition to removing plaque, flossing also helps:

Picture of young girl flossing her teeth

  • Remove debris between the teeth and under the gums

  • Polish tooth surfaces

  • Control bad breath

To be most effective, you need to floss at least once a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time.

What type of floss is best?

It doesn't matter what type of dental floss you use, the benefits are the same. Regular, consistent flossing is the single most important weapon against plaque. It may be more important than the toothbrush. The different types of dental floss include:

  • Waxed and unwaxed

  • Flavored and unflavored

  • Wide and regular

  • Textured and smooth

Flossing methods for adults

Your dentist or other oral healthcare provider can show you how to do any of these flossing methods. They include:

Picture of a young girl being instructed by her dentist on how to floss

  • Spool method (also called the finger-wrap method)

    • Cut off a piece of floss about 18 to 20 inches in length.

    • Lightly wrap each side of the piece of floss several times around each middle finger.

    • Next, carefully move 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 gum line, 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 about 18 inches long.

    • Tie it securely in a circle.

    • Next, place all of the fingers, except the thumb, in 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.

    • Make sure to go below the gum line, bending it to form a "C" on the side of each tooth.

Other flossing methods

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

Oral irrigators are not a substitute for tooth brushing and flossing. These devices may help clean around braces that hold on to food or in areas a toothbrush can't reach. But they don't remove plaque that contains harmful bacteria.