Flosses and picks
Plaque is a sticky layer of material containing germs that accumulate on teeth,
including places where toothbrushes can't reach. This can lead to gum disease.
The best way to get rid of plaque is to brush and floss your teeth carefully every
day. The toothbrush cleans the tops and sides of your teeth. Dental floss cleans
in-between them. Some people use waterpicks, but floss is the best choice.
Should I floss?
Yes. Floss removes plaque and debris that adhere to teeth and gums in between
teeth, polishes tooth surfaces, and controls bad breath. Floss is the single most
important weapon against plaque, perhaps more important than the toothbrush. Many
people just don't spend enough time flossing or brushing and many have never been
taught to floss or brush properly. When you visit your dentist or hygienist, ask
to be shown.
Which type of floss should I use?
Dental floss comes in many forms: waxed and unwaxed, flavored and unflavored,
wide and regular. Wide floss, or dental tape, may be helpful for people with a
lot of bridgework. Tapes are usually recommended when the spaces between teeth
They all clean and remove plaque about the same. Waxed floss might be easier
to slide between tight teeth or tight restorations. However, the unwaxed floss
makes a squeaking sound to let you know your teeth are clean. Bonded unwaxed floss
does not fray as easily as regular unwaxed floss, but does tear more than waxed
How should I floss?
There are two flossing methods: the spool method and the loop method. The spool method is suited for those with manual dexterity. Take an 18-inch
piece of floss and wind the bulk of the floss lightly around the middle finger.
(Don't cut off your finger's circulation!) Wind the rest of the floss similarly
around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger takes up the floss as
it becomes soiled or frayed. Maneuver the floss between teeth with your index
fingers and thumbs. Don't pull it down hard against your gums or you will hurt
them. Don't rub it side to side as if you're shining shoes. Bring the floss up
and down several times forming a "C" shape around the tooth being sure to go below
The loop method is suited for children or adults with less nimble hands, poor
muscular coordination or arthritis. Take an 18-inch piece of floss and make it
into a circle. Tie it securely with three knots. Place all of the fingers, except
the thumb, within the loop. Use your index fingers to guide the floss through
the lower teeth, and use your thumbs to guide the floss through the upper teeth,
going below the gumline forming a "C" on the side of the tooth.
How often should I floss?
At least once a day. To give your teeth a good flossing, spend at least two or
What are floss holders?
You may prefer a prethreaded flosser or floss holder, which often looks like
a little hacksaw. Flossers are handy for people with limited dexterity, for those
who are just beginning to floss, or for caretakers who are flossing someone else's
Is it safe to use toothpicks?
In a pinch, toothpicks are effective at removing food between teeth, but for
daily cleaning of plaque between teeth, floss is recommended. Toothpicks come
round and flat, narrow and thick. When you use a tooth pick, don't press too hard
as you can break off the end and lodge it in your gums.
Do I need a water-pick (irrigating device)?
Don't use waterpicks as a substitute for toothbrushing and flossing. But they
are effective around orthodontic braces that retain food in areas a toothbrush
cannot reach. However, they do not remove plaque.
Waterpicks are frequently recommended for persons with gum disease when recommended
by your dentist. Solutions containing antibacterial agents like chlorhexidine
or tetracycline, available through a dentist's prescription, can be added to the
This information was compiled for you by the Academy of General Dentistry. Your
dentist cares about long-term dental health for you and your family and demonstrates
that concern by belonging to the Academy of General Dentistry. As one of the 35,000
general dentists in the United States and Canada who are members of the Academy,
your dentist participates in an ongoing program of professional development and
continuing education to remain current with advances in the profession and to
provide quality patient treatment. Visit the AGD's website at www.agd.org. You have permission to photocopy this page and distribute it to your patients.
AGD IMPACT July 1998
Posted† October† 1,† 2000 † [TCJ]