Flossing and Children

Flossing should start when your child is around ages 2 to 3, under the direction of your child's dentist or primary care provider. Before this age, flossing is not needed. Children usually need help with flossing until they are ages 8 to 10. 

The importance of flossing

Brushing teeth properly and consistently helps remove most dental plaque. But brushing alone can't remove plaque that is located in places that a toothbrush can't reach, particularly in between teeth and under the gums. In addition to removing plaque, flossing also helps to:

Picture of young girl flossing her teeth

  • Remove debris that sticks to teeth between the teeth and under the gums

  • Polish tooth surfaces

  • Control bad breath

Your child should floss at least once a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time to be most effective.

Types of dental floss

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 the following:

  • Waxed and unwaxed

  • Flavored and unflavored

  • Wide and regular

  • Textured and smooth

Flossing methods

Your child's dentist or primary care provider can show you and your child how to floss. Methods 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 about18 to 20 inches long.

    • 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 that is approximately 18 inches long.

    • 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. 

    • 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 children with limited dexterity in their arms or hands, or if you are flossing your child's teeth.

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