Basics of Flossing

Dental floss is generally composed of a group of filaments made from materials that produce minimal friction when rubbed against the teeth. These materials include nylon, polyethylene, silk or Teflon. Dental floss is used to remove foreign material from the surface of the teeth, especially below the gum line. The primary benefit of flossing is to reduce the risk of gingivitis. Flossing can be performed by hand and a variety of tools are also available that may facilitate this process.


The American Dental Association recommends that you floss at least once per day, but it does not specify an order between flossing and brushing. However, flossing before brushing allows the fluoride in toothpaste to reach tooth surfaces more easily, especially between the teeth. The primary risk of flossing is cutting the gums due to excessive force with the floss.

General Instructions

Flossing by hand typically involves wrapping the floss several times around one or more fingers on each hand to prevent the floss from slipping. Pull the ends of the floss away from each other to apply tension to the floss. Place the floss between two of your teeth and bend the floss around one of these teeth.

Keep the floss tight while pulling it back and forth across the side of the tooth. Move the floss down until it passes below the occlusion between the two teeth. It is important to maintain pressure against the tooth as you do this so that you don’t pull the floss into the gums.

Carefully pull the floss against the side of the tooth where the gum meets the tooth. Pull the floss up to scrape the floss against the tooth. Repeat this step as needed to remove any film from the surface of the tooth. Repeat this step with the tooth on the other side of that gap. Floss the other teeth in a similar manner, including the exposed rear surface of your back molars.


Tools such as picks or wands are designed to hold floss instead of your fingers. The primary advantage of these tools is that they prevent the floss from pinching your fingers, which can happen when you floss manually. The biggest disadvantage of flossing tools is that they are more difficult to place in the proper position for flossing than your fingers. Flossing tools also have difficulty keeping the floss under the tension that is necessary to floss safely.

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