Flossing Mistakes to Avoid, According to a Dentist

Flossing Mistakes to Avoid, According to a Dentist
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flossing mistakes: an illustration of a tooth and flossShendart/Getty Images,

There was a time, not long ago, when I did not floss with any regularity. Eventually, it caught up with me and I’ve been dealing with the consequences (which, to date, have included multiple fillings and a root canal). In hopes of sparing you a similar fate, I wanted to share some surprising things I’ve learned through lengthy conversations with dentists, including the top mistakes many of us make when it comes to flossing.

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Meet the Expert

Dr. Michael J. Wei is a cosmetic dentist practicing in Manhattan, New York. After graduating from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in psychology, Dr. Wei earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from New York University College of Dentistry in 2000. Dr. Wei also received dual certificates in Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) at Columbia University School of Oral and Dental Surgery and completed a Fellowship at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Wei holds membership in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, Academy of General Dentistry, American Dental Association, New York State Dental Association and New York County Dental Society. Dr. Wei was voted one of America’s Top Dentists in 2005-2020 by the Consumer’s Research Council of America.

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,flossing mistakes: a woman flossing in the bathroomCharday Penn/Getty Images

Mistake #1: Not Choosing the Right Floss for Your Needs

Waxed, unwaxed, tape, super…who knew there were so many different types of floss? So how do you pick one? According to Dr. Wei, “It’ll ultimately depend on your personal preference and the needs of your teeth and gums,” but we’ll break down some of the most common types of floss and how they’re used for you now:

  • Nylon Floss: This is the most common and widely available option. It is effective at removing plaque and food particles from between the teeth. Nylon floss comes in both waxed and unwaxed varieties. Waxed floss may slide more easily between teeth, while unwaxed floss is thinner and can fit into tighter spaces.
  • PTFE Floss: This type of floss is made from monofilament PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) material. PTFE floss slides more smoothly between teeth, making it a good choice for those with tight spaces or sensitive gums. It is also less likely to shred or tear.
  • Dental Tape: Dental tape is wider and flatter than regular floss. It works well for people with wider spaces between their teeth. Dental tape tends to be gentler on gums and is less likely to cause irritation.
  • Super Floss: Super floss is a specialty type of floss that consists of three components: a stiffened end, a spongy floss and a regular floss. It is designed to help clean braces, bridges, and wide gaps between teeth.

When choosing between these types of floss, consider the following factors:

  • Space Between Teeth: If your teeth are tightly packed, consider using a thinner floss like nylon or PTFE. If you have wider spaces between teeth, dental tape may be a better choice.
  • Comfort: If you have sensitive gums, consider a floss that is thin, smooth, and gentle, such as PTFE or dental tape.
  • Special Dental Conditions: If you have dental appliances like braces, bridges or wide gaps, consider using specialty floss like super floss as it can make cleaning these areas easier.

“The most important thing is to find a floss that you feel comfortable using and that effectively removes plaque and debris from between your teeth,” says Dr. Wei, before adding that we should all aim to floss at least once a day to maintain healthy gums and prevent tooth decay.

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Mistake #2: Not Using Enough Floss to Get the Job Done

“You want to use 18 to 24 inches of floss, so you can wrap most of it around your fingers and still have a few inches to work with,” says Dr. Wei. “Hold the floss tightly against the tooth surface and slide it gently up and down in a C-shape motion.”

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Mistake #3: Not Reaching Beneath the Gumline

Gently curve the floss around the base of the tooth and slide it just below the gumline, making sure not to snap or force the floss into your gums, which can cause irritation. Doing this will help remove plaque and debris from these hard-to-reach areas.

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Mistake #4: Not Using a Clean Section of Floss for Each Tooth

After cleaning one tooth, use a fresh segment of floss for the next tooth. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria from one tooth to another.

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Mistake #5: Neglecting the Back of Your Mouth

Ensure you floss both sides of every tooth, including the back molars. These areas are often neglected but still require proper cleaning. Take your time while flossing and pay extra attention to any areas with tight contact points.

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Mistake #6: Not Rinsing Your Mouth Immediately

After flossing, rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash to help remove any loosened debris.

Lastly, we’ve come across varying opinions on whether you should floss or brush first, so we ran it by Dr. Wei, who recommends the following order of operations for most people:

  • Floss: It’s best to start with flossing as it helps remove food particles and plaque from between the teeth and along the gumline. This allows for a more thorough and effective brushing afterward.
  • Rinse: After flossing, rinse your mouth with water or an antiseptic mouthwash. Rinsing helps to further remove any residual debris and freshens your mouth.
  • Brush: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste to thoroughly clean your teeth, gums and tongue. Brush for at least two minutes, covering all surfaces of your teeth.
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    One Final Note

    You may want to hold off on rinsing your mouth immediately after brushing (which was news to me!). “The reason is that the fluoride in the toothpaste needs some time to stay in contact with your teeth to provide added protection,” explains Dr. Wei. “So, spitting out excess toothpaste after brushing is recommended, but it’s better to avoid rinsing immediately,” he adds.

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