Flossing FAQ

Maybe you’re super dedicated, maybe you’ve never done it, or maybe you do it once in a blue moon. Whatever your attitude and commitment to flossing, let’s break down the basics of cleaning between those pearly whites.

Do I really need to floss?

You’ve probably asked yourself this before, and last year toothpaste conglomerates no doubt went into panic when it seemed flossing was dead. For real? Yes. Basically, there’s currently insufficient strong research to say it’s a 'must-do' dental care activity and, as a result, the standard recommendation to floss was removed from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in August 2016. Woah.

So, does that mean we’re all off the flossing hook? Not necessarily (sorry). A lack of evidence to support flossing isn't necessarily the same thing as saying it's pointless and you should bin the minted string right away. Ask any dentist, and they’ll probably tell you to keep at it.

What’s wrong with my toothbrush?

Research to 100% back flossing might be lacking, but cold hard facts (and dentists) that do support the pearly white practice are not. For starters, nearly half the surface area of your teeth lies between them. So, if you’re relying solely on brushing you’re basically not cleaning a large portion of your teeth. You only need half your teeth anyway, right?

How will flossing change my life?

Flossing helps remove plaque (and, let’s face it, straight up food), and plaque is a sticky film home to lots of bacteria typically responsible for common problems. So, you’re not just making your dentist proud when you floss, you’re helping prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and halitosis (an ironically fancy word for “bad breath”). Don’t believe us? Try smelling that dirty floss after you use it – gross, but it’s like nastiness incarnate. Ha – still not fussed on flossing?

OK, OK. How can I take the pain out of this drudgery?

Like any habit change, it’s better if you make it part of your routine and make it as easy as possible. How? Floss when you’re not in a rush and when you have the energy to do it justice. If you’re about to collapse into a heap at night with a small child attached to your leg, you might benefit from flossing first thing in the morning or after lunch.

How do I floss?

If you’re going to go to the effort of buying the floss and opening its container, you may as well do it right.

After giving you a pat on the back, your dentist will be happy to instruct you on the correct flossing technique. According to the Australian Dental Association, it should involve the following basic steps:

  1. Wind approximately 45cm of floss around your middle fingers and grip it tightly between your thumbs and index fingers
  2. Keeping the thumbs and index fingers close together, gently guide the floss between the teeth, taking care not to cut or damage your gums by abrupt movement. You should use side-to-side motion to ensure the sides of both teeth are cleaned equally.
  3. To clean the “neck” of the tooth, which is the point where it meets the gums, curl the floss in a ‘C’ shape and insert it gently under the gum
  4. Use a new section of floss for each tooth

Great Scott, I’m bleeding! Am I doing it right?

Flossing correctly will leave your teeth sparkling clean pain-free, but it’s not uncommon to bleed from overzealous flossing. A lot of people hold the floss as hard and tight as Hugh Jackman’s abs, jam it in between their teeth, traumatise their teeth (and themselves) and then bleed.

Like holding a newborn baby, it's important to be gentle when flossing. Many people apply a lot of pressure or use a vigorous sawing motion, thinking this will get their teeth clean. But this kind of forceful flossing can lead to bleeding gums. Instead, floss lightly, people. It’s plaque, not super glue.

Can you over-floss?

Now that you’ve got the fear of bad breath keeping your floss game strong, you’re super keen to get in there as much as possible, right? It’s great that you’re a converted flosser but try not to kill your gums with enthusiasm via an hourly floss routine. You only need to floss once a day. Excessive flossing is ineffective and can actually cause damage and irritation to sensitive gum tissue. Save your time and coin for something else.

3 things that take the pain out of flossing:

  1. Learn the correct technique – your dentist can lovingly demonstrate correct flossing techniques
  2. Use a floss threader – ideal if you have braces or a bridge, these are loops of fibre that thread floss into small places around your teeth
  3. Use a floss pick – made up of two prongs with dental floss strung between them, they’re perfect if you struggle with traditional flossing techniques

Knowing how to floss properly is key for keeping up killer oral hygiene. Flossing removes plaque between teeth and helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease by cleaning the tight spaces in between teeth that your toothbrush can't reach. Not to mention the bad breath! Take the time to learn how to floss properly to ensure that your teeth are healthy and beautiful for years to come. If nothing else, you can feel smug knowing you’re a better tooth carer than the rest of ‘em.




The Australian Dental Association

The Conversation 

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