For some folks, flossing can be surprisingly complicated. It seems simple in concept, but when you actually do it, it’s all-too-easy to feel like you’re going about it wrong. If you’ve had difficulty flossing in the past, you might even be too intimidated to try to floss regularly.
We’ve written about how and why to floss before, but we figured it was about time for a follow-up. These tips are for those of you who feel like you can’t quite get flossing right. Keep these in mind next time you floss for a much more effective and less frustrating experience.
You don’t need to use typical string floss
You’re not alone; more people than you’d expect really don’t like string floss. We don’t blame you. The main problem people seem to have with string floss is they never feel like they’re using it correctly. No matter how they use it, they feel string floss never seems to do as good a job as they think it should. Some people even tend to force string floss into their gums too hard, which is never a good idea.
If you just hate string floss, there are several good alternatives. Floss picks are single-use, disposable plastic devices that hold a bit of pre-threaded floss between two prongs on one end and have a pick shape on the other. Some have a flat design and others are Y-shaped, but they both do the job. There are also several types of electronic flossers that work in other ways. Instead of using floss, these devices shoot either jets of water or pressurized air into the gaps between teeth. These two alternatives are really just the beginning, too. There are all kinds of other flossing aids and implements out there. Don’t give up on flossing just because you can’t make string floss work for you!
“Snapping” floss into place happens when someone applies too much force toward the gums while attempting to get the floss through the contact point between the teeth. They yank and pull while trying to find the right angle to get the floss to slide between their teeth. (It usually happens when they have their hands too far apart, like in this picture.) When they finally do find that angle, they pull the floss up too hard, “snapping” it into their gums. Flossing the right way does not damage your gums and helps them stay clean. But snapping your floss – or flossing too hard – hurts your gums, and doing it over and over can damage them.
You should never force your floss into place. Instead, slowly and carefully find the right angle to get it to slide between your teeth. Your gums might bleed a little while you’re flossing, and it might be a bit uncomfortable for a few days if you haven’t been a regular flosser. But flossing healthy gums the right way should never hurt. If you’re in pain while you floss, it’s a sign you’re doing it too hard. Similarly, don’t “saw” away at your gums with your floss. It’s better to floss gently, even if it doesn’t “feel” right, than it is to hurt your gums.
Take your time
The most common reason people tend to over-floss is they’re trying to rush through the process. Instead of working steadily and consistently, they want to finish as fast as they can. Unfortunately, when people rush their flossing, they do a worse job and usually end up hurting their gums, too. Most fast flossers end up missing the plaque between their teeth and hit their gums too hard instead. Repeated fast flossing could even result in permanent gum recession.
One of the most common misconceptions we hear about flossing is you have to “feel” it. People imagine that if flossing doesn’t hurt, they’re not doing it right. Flossing healthy gums should never hurt. When you floss, take the time to gently guide the floss into place. Maneuver it back and forth slowly and methodically. Never force it into place or saw it back and forth so hard it hurts. Not only will taking your time make flossing more comfortable, it’ll improve flossing’s effectiveness, too.
Don’t forget the gums
The previous two items warned against flossing your gums too hard, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all. Removing plaque from beneath the gum line is one of the most important functions of flossing. Floss can get into areas that your toothbrush just can’t reach – on the sides of the teeth and just below the gum line. Plaque beneath the gum line that isn’t removed can harden into tartar and cause inflammation or disease.
After you gently rub the floss between two teeth, gradually move it lower until touches your gums. Wrap the floss around the side of your tooth in a “C” shape and gently slide it up and down, including below the gum line. You should feel the motion on your gums, but it shouldn’t be painful. Your gums may bleed a little at this point, especially if you haven’t flossed in awhile. Remember not to push the floss, move it too quickly, or yank on it. Don’t try to use the floss on more than one space between your teeth at a time.
Hopefully, these tips will help you master your flossing technique. Even if you still can’t seem to get it right, however, don’t give up!
Instead, ask your dentist or hygienist about flossing at your next cleaning and check-up. The pros at ImmediaDent can help you understand how to floss correctly in a way that works for you. As always, we’ll do everything we can to help you enjoy good lifelong dental health and hygiene.