How to Use dental floss properly


Unfortunately, it is still the case that many people who otherwise maintain good oral hygiene refrain from flossing. The reason for this is often that the application seems too complicated to them.

It is very important and actually very easy to use dental floss correctly. The medical team at the London Dentaly Clinic would like to explain how this works in the following text. It is explained:

  •   what types of floss there are,
  •   which floss is suitable for which purpose,
  •   how to properly use dental floss,
  •   what about dental floss sticks and?
  •   how to avoid the most common flossing mistakes.



The correct use of dental floss starts with choosing the right product. Those who deal with the subject of dental floss for the very first time are often overwhelmed by the large selection that well-stocked drugstores and pharmacies have ready.

We explain which types of floss there are and what they are intended for. A basic distinction is made between:

Smooth dental floss or floss – thin nylon thread consisting of several filaments twisted together with a round cross-section, available as a waxed or unwaxed version, also available with coatings (e.g., fluoride) or flavored aromas

PTFE dental floss – a thin, single filament made of polytetrafluoroethylene

Dental tape or tape (SATINtape®, Dental Tape) – thin plastic tape with a flat cross-section, slightly wider than dental floss

fluffy dental floss or super floss (Super Floss®, Ultra Floss®, Multifloss®) – pre-cut threads with smooth, stiffened ends (“threading aid”) and a fluffy middle section, possibly also an additional smooth section

Dental floss sticks – plastic sticks with a curved, Y-shaped head, between the ends of which a floss thread is stretched

There is also a separate threader made of plastic, the shape and function of which is based on a sewing needle. The dental floss is threaded into the eye, then the ‘needle tip’ is passed through the gap and the remaining ‘needle’ together with the threaded dental floss is pulled through.

Waxed or unwaxed, thread or tape?

Whether you use waxed or unwaxed dental floss is largely a matter of taste. Studies show that good cleaning results can be achieved with both variants.

The cleaning experience is slightly different:

With waxed dental floss, the individual filaments are held together by a thin layer of wax. As a result, the thread slides more easily and can even be threaded through narrow gaps if necessary. In addition, the risk of injuring the gums is lower with waxed dental floss. Therefore, this variant is often recommended for first-time users. However, wax residues may remain on the teeth.

With unwaxed dental floss, the individual filaments fan out during the cleaning process, which some find advantageous, while others find it annoying. The thread can easily fray or tear at sharp-edged areas, and individual filaments may get stuck in tight gaps. Unwaxed dental floss makes a squeaking noise on the clean tooth – a signal that the cleaning is successful.

The preference for floss threads or ribbons is ultimately a matter of taste. Tapes tend to be recommended for wider tooth gaps.

The right dental floss for braces

With removable braces, teeth cleaning is not a major problem, as the braces can simply be taken out of the mouth to brush your teeth.

In contrast, fixed braces, especially bracket appliances, require a special tooth-cleaning technique and also special measures to clean the spaces between the teeth. Here it is particularly important, but also complicated, to use dental floss correctly.

The wires attached to the brackets and stretched over the row of teeth stand in the way of conventional flossing: Only the upper area of ​​the interdental spaces or side surfaces of the teeth can be reached – but halfway the wire is in the way.

In order to be able to clean the interdental spaces or the side surfaces of the teeth underneath the wire, a special technique is required: the dental floss has to be pulled through the teeth under the wire. This is possible through:

conventional floss & threader – a kind of oversized plastic needle, through the eye of which the floss is pulled, in order to then thread the needle tip through the narrow gap and pull the thread in the eye

Superfloss with threading aid – a floss thread cut to the right length with a specially stiffened end that can be easily threaded through the narrow gap

The right dental floss for crowns and bridges

Dental crowns and dental bridges were fixed dentures that were permanently cemented onto the ground tooth stump with special dental cement:

The artificial tooth crown replaces a missing natural tooth crown.

The dental bridge is used to close smaller tooth gaps (1-4 missing teeth). It is attached to the teeth adjacent to the gap, which are crowned for this purpose.

The dentures themselves are of course resistant to caries – but it is still important, especially with fixed dentures, to use dental floss correctly in order to clean the risk areas:

In both cases, the transition area between the artificial tooth crown and the natural tooth root requires special attention to avoid caries forms. Traditional dental floss or superfloss are used to remove the plaque at this point.

In the case of dental bridges, the gap between the underside of the bridge members and the gums must also be cleaned, as food residues can get stuck here and plaque can form. Here you use (in addition to interdental brushes if necessary) Superfloss with a threading aid to thread the floss thread through the gap.

The right floss for implants

Implant-supported dentures rest on artificial tooth roots – on dental implants that are firmly anchored in the jawbone. In order to extend the life of the implants, the London Dentaly advises its patients to take great care in oral hygiene.

In any case, the gum line, i.e., the area where the implant emerges through the oral mucosa, requires special attention. This can be done with dental floss.

In the case of implant-borne dental bridges or implant-borne prosthesis, e.g., bar prostheses, the gap between the gum and the dentures or bar construction must also be cleaned. Superfloss with a threading aid is used here (if necessary, in addition to interdental brushes).


Proper use of floss in adults

Using floss properly is actually quite easy if you follow the steps below:

Cutting: If you use dental floss or dental tape from the dispenser, you first cut off an approx. 40 cm long piece. Alternatively, there are also pre-cut floss threads. Superfloss is basically pre-cut.

Stretching: The ends of the thread are wrapped around the fingertips of both index and / or middle fingers. You can now stretch the floss by gently pulling it.

Insertion: The dental floss is now positioned at a right angle to the row of teeth and inserted into the space between two teeth. This is easiest in the front teeth area; it is a little more difficult with the molars. The dental floss is then pulled down to the gum line – as carefully as possible so as not to injure the gums.

Brushing: Now the dental floss is placed in a C-shape around the side surface of the one adjacent tooth by pulling both ends in the same direction. Then the thread is guided in short zigzag movements on the side surface up towards the tooth crown. Then the same procedure is repeated on the side surface of the other adjacent tooth.

In the case of front teeth or free-standing teeth, the dental floss can also be placed around the tooth in a scarf shape and pulled back and forth to clean both side surfaces at the same time.

Rinsing: In order to remove the food residues and plaque loosened using the dental floss, the mouth is then rinsed with water.

Each gap between teeth should be brushed with a new, clean section of floss. It is best to work systematically from one end of the stretched thread to the other.

Proper use of floss in children

Using dental floss on children is recommended as soon as the gaps between the molars have closed. Parents should ask the dentist when the spaces between the teeth require separate cleaning – in addition to normal tooth brushing.

Children are only able to use dental floss independently from the age of 10-12. Expert guidance from the dentist, prophylaxis expert or parents is of course required here so that the floss is used correctly.

Before that, parents are required to clean the interdental spaces for their children. It is especially important to be careful not to injure the gums and cause pain to the child.

The technique is the same as described above – just not in your own mouth, but in the child’s mouth. Often this is even easier because you can see what you are doing directly instead of observing yourself in the mirror.


Dental floss sticks, also called tooth sticks, dental fiddles, are a handy alternative to the classic dental floss in the dispenser:

The floss thread is already stretched, so there is no need to measure a sufficiently long thread and wrap it around the fingertips.

The curved plastic holder makes it easier for many people to get into the interdental spaces in the molar area.

The gain in comfort achieved by the plastic holder is bought at the price of a small ‘environmental sin’, as there is significantly more plastic waste.

Apart from that, the use is very similar to that of conventional dental floss: the thread is inserted into the space between the teeth and then guided along one side and then the other with small zigzag movements.

Proper use of floss sticks in children

Dental floss sticks make it easier to use dental floss properly and are therefore particularly good for cleaning the spaces between the teeth in children. This applies both to the cleaning by the parents as well as later when the children do this themselves.

In addition to conventional fossettes, there are also special dental floss sticks for children. These have a larger plastic handle that fits well in the child’s hand. The handle is often designed in bright colors and funny motifs to increase the motivation to clean.


Should I floss before or after brushing my teeth?

Whether it is better to use the dental floss before after brushing your teeth is controversial even among experts or is considered to be of little relevance. For example, on the websites of the UK Dental Associations, it is said that you can decide for yourself at will.

The medical team at the London Dentaly Clinic recommends always using dental floss or flossette before brushing your teeth in the evening: If the spaces between the teeth are cleaned right at the beginning, the toothpaste can penetrate the side surfaces of the teeth and fluoridize them when you brush your teeth afterwards.

Help, my gums bleed when I floss!

If you floss regularly and correctly, bleeding gums will rarely occur. However, especially during the first attempts, it can happen that the white thread turns red.

When the initial shock is over, one should investigate the cause of the bleeding gums. There are two typical cases:

With inexperienced use, the floss is inserted too roughly into the interdental spaces and hits the gum line too hard → The brushing technique should be improved here, the floss must never be pulled abruptly towards the gums, but always in small, controlled zigzag movements.

The gums are inflamed and therefore more prone to bleeding → Cleaning the interdental spaces improves oral hygiene and can help existing inflammations heal more quickly. However, it is important to use the dental floss correctly and to be very careful, especially around the gum line.

If the bleeding gums persist, which is also noticeable when brushing your teeth and / or eating, the dentist should be visited as soon as possible in order to clarify possible causes and, if necessary, initiate treatment.

Help, my floss stinks after using it!

Those who use dental floss often notice during the first attempts that they not only have a yellow discoloration after use, but also have an unpleasant smell.

This is neither unusual nor pathological, but rather a sign that a cleaning service has been performed! The badly smelling food residues and plaque that previously stuck to the teeth now adhere to the used dental floss!

The smell is mainly caused by organic decomposition processes, to be more precise by the excretion of bacteria that settle in the plaque, feed on food residues and excrete the metabolic products that are formed.

As long as these metabolites are not removed, they can cause bad breath! The unpleasant smell of used dental floss is therefore actually the best argument for regular cleaning of the interdental spaces.

The more regularly you use the floss, the weaker the smell should be after use.

Did you know …?

In the past, dental floss was actually made of silk

The term ‘dental floss’ has been around for more than 200 years. He goes to the American dentist Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, who practiced in New Orleans in 1815: He recommended that his patients use silk thread to clean the spaces between their teeth.

Commercial floss production did not begin until six decades later and gained popularity with patenting by the Johnson & Johnson company. Waxed floss has been in use since the 1940’s.

There are also animals that use dental floss

Incidentally, we humans are not the only ones interested in cleaning our interdental spaces: biologists have observed that a group of wild monkeys in Thailand does that too!

Instead of floss, they use human hair, which they pull out of long-haired tourists. In addition, they pass this remarkable cultural technique on to their offspring, and so you can see little monkeys devoting themselves to dental care!


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