What you need to know about floss

A great saying (or at least a funny internet meme) says, “you don’t need to floss all of your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!”  

I’m a dental hygienist and an optimist, so I am going to guess that you do want to keep your teeth, and yes, if you want to keep your teeth you do need to clean between them at least once a day, every day. You might have noticed something there I said, you have to clean between your teeth but I didn’t say floss. 

Not everyone needs to floss, but everyone needs to clean between their teeth once per day with some sort of interdental cleaner. 

What do you mean I don’t have to floss?

For some people, flossing isn’t the easiest or most effective way to clean between their teeth. Some people have wider spaces between their teeth, some have dexterity issues, and some patients even mention they have large hands and a small mouth so they can’t floss. 

I don’t buy that last excuse. But even if that is you, I can help you find an alternative way to clean in between your teeth!

Ohhhhhh, so I do still need to clean in between my teeth?

Yes, you do! Cleaning in between the teeth is very important because plaque and bacteria build up there just like the rest of your mouth. The only difference is that the flat surfaces of your teeth are cleaned effectively by a toothbrush, while the in-between spaces (also called interproximal) are not. 

Before I get into the different ways to clean between your teeth, here is something I would like to address: As I said before, you need to clean in between your teeth once per day. It does not matter if it is before or after brushing. 

In fact, it doesn’t have to be combined with brushing at all. For example, if you brush your teeth before work in the morning and before going to sleep at night, but prefer flossing after lunch that is fine. You will still be removing the bacteria and plaque once in that 24 hour period.

But what else can I use?

Now then, here are some alternatives to flossing:

Floss Picks 

These are the bow-shaped pieces of plastic with a piece of dental floss strung between the two ends of the bow. Some people find these easier to use than traditional floss but there is a catch. 

While they are effective, they are not quite as effective as regular floss. That’s because on a floss pick, the floss is held in a straight line and you cannot move it into the proper “C” shape needed to floss around each tooth effectively. You will also need quite a few floss picks to clean your entire mouth which can contribute to more waste than regular floss.

Water Flossers

These devices use a pressurized stream of pulsating water to clean away food particles, bacteria, and plaque between the teeth and under the gumline. Water flossers are especially useful for anyone with braces, bridgework, crowns, or dental implants. It can be an easier way to clean between the teeth for people with arthritis or anyone who has a hard time using regular floss. 

Another benefit of water flossers is that they can help to reach periodontal pockets that are caused by gum disease. There can be a learning curve when using a water flosser, so here are a few tips I give to patients before they start using one:

  1. Use warm water: In order to use a water flosser, you first have to fill up the machine’s reservoir. I recommend using warm water for this because cold water can make the teeth very sensitive, especially if there is any gum recession. 
  2. Start on the lowest power setting: When you are first starting to use a water flosser, your gums might be sensitive until they get used to it. You can always add more pressure later once your gums are healthier. 
  3. Place the tip in your mouth before turning it on: This will help to avoid water spraying everywhere when you are getting used to how to use the machine.

Proxy Brushes

These are also sometimes referred to as interdental brushes. They have a plastic handle and a small brush with bristles on the end. I think these look like a mini pipe cleaner. These are easy to use, you just insert them in between your teeth. 

They come in many shapes and sizes. To find the size that is right for you, ask your hygienist or try to insert a small one between your teeth. You should not have to force it between the teeth and it should come out easily. If you are using a size that is too small you will know because the bristles of the brush will not touch the sides of the adjacent teeth.

Hopefully one of these alternative flossing methods will help you clean in between your teeth once a day. You will be protecting your heart, brain, and your teeth all at once!

Looking for advice on flossing techniques from your friendly dental hygienist? Book an appointment with Virtudent to chat during your next dental cleaning.

Denice McClure

Author Denice McClure

Denice has been a dental hygienist for over ten years since she graduated from Middlesex Community College with a degree in Dental Hygiene in 2009! After graduation, she began working in a multi-specialty private practice office. She continued her education by obtaining her bachelor's degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Dental Hygiene as well as a dual Masters in Dental Hygiene and Public Health. In her free time, Denice can be found reading, running, swimming, traveling, or watching one of her favorite reality Bravo reality shows.

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