Add flossing to your daily dental routine and you’ll experience a cleaner, healthier smile.1 Most people either forget about flossing or put it low on their list of priorities because they are unaware of the importance or unsure how to do it correctly. But flossing helps clean the gaps between your teeth so that you're less likely to get gum infections or cavities from bacteria buildup.2 And with improved dental health, you may avoid the large bills that come with expensive dental procedures.3

What is dental floss?

Dental floss is a tool you should use daily to remove food and bacteria buildup from in between your teeth. Floss, which is commonly made out of plastic or nylon, is a thin thread that you place between your teeth and pull in order to clean the gaps. As you pull on the thread, you should remove food and debris.

Types of dental floss

The dental care aisle is filled with many types of floss. You can get most of them at your local supermarket or drugstore. Although each kind of dental floss uses some type of thread or ribbon, there are differences in materials and packaging.

Some floss is made out of dental ribbon rather than plastic or nylon string. Ribbon floss is smoother and more comfortable than traditional floss. For example, if your gums ache or bleed when you floss your teeth, you might want to try ribbon floss instead.

Automatic flossers are an option if you have a hard time perfecting your flossing technique or find flossing uncomfortable. When you turn the flosser on and touch it against your teeth, it uses a nylon filament to clean the spaces between your teeth for you.

You and your dentist can easily find one that best suits you or your family’s needs.

Benefits of using dental floss

Brushing cleans the surface of your teeth. You need to floss in order to clean out the gaps between your teeth, where bacteria often reside.4 If you don't floss, you're more likely to have plaque buildup, which can lead to cavities, tooth decay and gum disease.5 If left untreated, gum disease can be a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and a high body mass index.6 In addition, bacteria can cause bad breath, and having food or debris between your teeth can make them look less clean or white.7 Thus, flossing can help improve the appearance of your mouth as well as your dental hygiene and overall health.8

How often should you floss?

It's more important to take your time and floss correctly than it is to floss often. If you floss several times a day, but do it quickly, you'll miss a lot of the bacteria and debris you need to clean out. This defeats the purpose of flossing. It's far better to floss only once a day and do it slowly so that you clean your entire mouth.9

Of course, it's still important to floss regularly; if you don't floss at least once a day, you won't reap all the benefits.10

Dental floss for braces

For those wearing braces, flossing is even more important. Food and bacteria can easily lodge underneath braces and cause permanent damage to teeth.11 However, you have to be careful when flossing so that you don't damage your braces.

Always use waxed flossing products if you have braces. Unwaxed products are less slippery and are therefore more likely to get caught or tangled in your braces. If enough floss gets tangled, it can pull a brace out of alignment or even break it.

There's a specific technique you should use when flossing your braces. If your children have braces, you may need to help them with it, as it requires a bit of coordination. Start with the teeth at one side of your mouth. Carefully thread the floss underneath the wire and between 2 teeth, then gently pull up and down. When you have flossed these 2 teeth, remove the floss from under the brace wire and throw it away. Repeat this procedure on the next 2 teeth. It may take a long time to floss using this method, but it’s the best because it reduces the risk of breaking your braces.

Dental floss facts

  • Dental floss was invented in 1815 by a New Orleans dentist who advised his patients to use thin thread to clean between their teeth.12
  • Johnson & Johnson patented dental floss in 1898; at the time, it was made out of silk.13
  • Manufacturers began to use nylon instead of silk in the 1940s.14
  • Some people falsely believe that you can't floss if you're pregnant, nursing or wearing braces. In reality, there's a technique and material for everybody who wants to floss their teeth. Talk to your dentist about proper flossing techniques if you have concerns.15

Remember, flossing your teeth daily helps improve your general as well as your dental health16.

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  1. “Benefits of flossing your teeth,”, last accessed September 26, 2019,, opens new window.
  2. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  3. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  4. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  5. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  6. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  7. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  8. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  9. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  10. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”
  11. “How to Brush Your Teeth and Floss with Braces,”, last accessed September 9, 2019,, opens new window.
  12. “The History of Dental Floss,”, last accessed September 9, 2019,, opens new window.
  13. “The History of Dental Floss.”
  14. “The History of Dental Floss.”
  15. “The History of Dental Floss.”
  16. “Benefits of flossing your teeth.”

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