Although it’s sometimes overlooked, flossing once every day helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy. It reaches those pesky areas a toothbrush can’t — in between the teeth — to eliminate plaque buildup. Using the right techniques and avoiding the wrong ones can maximize the effectiveness of your flossing regimen; here are some do’s and don’ts to follow.
Floss once per day.
Although dental professionals recommend flossing daily, only about 16% of Americans actually do, according to a 2017 survey published by the American Dental Association1. Why should you make it a point to floss every day? Because it removes about 40% of the plaque buildup in your mouth2. Plaque can cause cavities — even between the teeth — and gum disease if it isn’t addressed.
Hold and maneuver the floss correctly.
Start with a piece of floss approximately 18 inches long. Wrap the ends around your middle fingers, leaving about two inches of space between. Gently glide the floss between your teeth using a back-and-forth motion. Form a C shape around each tooth to ensure you cover maximum surface area3.
Use a new section of floss for each tooth.
You may wonder why you should use an 18-inch piece of floss. Is it really necessary to use that much floss? Yes, because you need a clean section for each tooth. Reusing the same sections can leave bacteria behind in your mouth. You should wrap the majority of the floss around one finger to begin. When you move on to a new tooth, wrap the used section of floss around the opposite finger (the one that starts out with less floss). This will give you a fresh piece of floss to clean each tooth4.
Snap the floss between your teeth.
As you floss, use a gentle back-and-forth motion to guide the string between your teeth. Snapping the floss, or using too much pressure to force the floss between your teeth, can damage your gums. Over time, it can cause receding gums, which increases the risk of tooth decay and periodontal disease. If flossing is causing pain, you’re likely using too much force5.
Stop if your gums bleed.
It may seem natural to stop flossing if your gums begin to bleed. However, failing to floss can cause gum inflammation and bleeding — a sign of gingivitis, the earliest form of gum disease — in the first place. If your gums start bleeding, continue flossing gently to eliminate plaque. If you floss consistently, you’ll reduce gum inflammation and the bleeding will stop within a couple of weeks6.
Use mouthwash as a replacement.
Mouthwash has benefits for your mouth, from freshening your breath to reducing your risk for cavities. However, just because mouthwash can get between your teeth doesn’t mean it’s a substitute for flossing7. Plaque can be very sticky, and mouthwash alone can’t remove it all. Flossing is essential for eliminating the leftover residue on your teeth8.
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