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Flossing

Cleaning between the teeth is an important part of ensuring good oral hygiene. Careful brushing alone is not sufficient in preventing gum (periodontal) disease as the toothbrush bristles cannot penetrate all parts or sides of the teeth. Flossing should be done as it is effective in removing plaque from the areas where the toothbrush cannot reach and is also useful for removing food caught between the teeth. Flossing is particularly important where teeth overlap each other, where there is bridgework or if you are prone to gum disease.

Using dental floss requires time and an average level of manual dexterity, and needs to be undertaken daily. It is best to receive individual instruction from a dental professional as flossing with a poor technique may result in more problems than it solves. The dental professional can also ensure that your flossing is effective and can give advice about difficult areas in the mouth.

The best way to floss

Initially, it is wise to use waxed dental tape, as it is slightly thicker, glides between the teeth easily, and does not fray around rough edges of fillings. Ensure that a mirror is used to see what is happening. Only floss a few teeth for the first few days, gradually building up to incorporate the whole mouth over a couple of weeks.

A methodical approach must be used to ensure all areas are effectively cleaned:

Use a piece of floss about 18 inches long – there should be enough floss to ensure a firm grip on it with the fingers. It is recommended that a clean piece be used for each tooth Wind the floss around the middle fingers so that the first [index] finger is free to guide the floss. Hold the floss tightly between the thumbs and index fingers so that about an inch (no more) is free. Gradually ease the floss between the teeth moving the floss from the biting surface into the space between the teeth, using a slight backwards and forwards motion. When the floss is in the space between the teeth, move it carefully into the gum groove (margin) which is slightly detached from the tooth surface. This is the natural cuff of gum that surrounds the tooth (the gingival margin) Curve the floss around one tooth surface, in a C shape, and gently slide the floss back towards the biting surface and out of the contact between the teeth. One surface of one tooth has now been cleaned. Take a clean piece of floss, go back into the same space and clean the other surface with the same action. This now needs to be repeated with every tooth surface. It will take time and practice to become good at flossing. Persevere, as this is an effective method of cleaning between the teeth and should prevent gum (periodontal) disease.

There are various flossing aids available which may assist the process. A floss holder is a V-shaped piece of plastic into which the floss is wound. This acts as a substitute for your fingers so that the handle can be held and the floss slid into place. There are also floss picks which come packaged with floss attached to the floss holder.

For cleaning underneath bridges and around implants there is ‘superfloss’, which has a teased-out (fuzzy) section of floss and a built-in threader. When flossing around bridges, it is sometimes not possible to move the floss from the biting surface into the space between the teeth as the bridge metalwork is fused together, so the floss needs to be threaded underneath the bridgework. Using a similar action to flossing, ensure that the join between the tooth bridgework and gum is cleaned, as this is a particular area of plaque accumulation. The fuzzy part of superfloss is particular good for cleaning around implants.

If problems continue seek advice from a dental professional.