FAQs about Flossing and Toothpicks

Why floss? Its such a drag!

The main reason to use dental floss is because floss removes the hard-to-reach plaque that toothbrushing misses. In fact, most dental decay and periodontal disease begin where teeth touch each other at or under the contact points. And thats precisely where the toothbrush bristles cannot reach.

What is floss?

Dental floss is composed of gently twisted nylon or Teflon (Gore-Tex) threads.

Are there different types of dental floss?

Dental floss comes waxed and unwaxed, flavored and unflavored, and in varying widths: thin, regular or wide. There is no “best” type of floss to use. Unwaxed floss is favored by many periodontists and dentists because as its used, the nylon threads spread to absorb more plaque. Our office believes that clinically it doesn’t matter which type of floss – or dental tape – you use, but just that you use it, and that it works well for you. Tooth brushing alone does not remove enough plaque to be effective when it comes to good oral hygiene.

Ask your periodontist, dentist or hygienist how best to use floss under fixed bridges and around dental implants.

How often should I floss?

You should floss at least once a day. Though cumbersome at first, flossing will take no time at all once the skills are mastered.

How should I floss?

Use about 18 inches of floss. Wrap it loosely around your middle fingers, not your index fingers. This is because you dont want to limit the range of motion of the index finger which, along with the thumb, is used to guide the floss in the right places.

With the floss wrapped around your middle fingers, guide a piece roughly 1″ to 1 1/2″ between two teeth. Gently saw the floss back-and-forth, passing beyond the contact point, to where the floss slides down the neck of the tooth.

Once the floss is beyond the contact point, guide it “around” one of the teeth. Avoid the triangular gum tissue, known as a papilla. A good way to picture this is to think of the tooth as a circle, and your goal is to swipe away the plaque from one half of that circle. Slide the floss gently into the space between the gums and the tooth until you meet resistance. Then, holding the floss firmly against the tooth, rotate it up and down, as if you were “shining shoes.” After two or three strokes, lift the floss over the papilla, shifting your thumb and index finger so that you guide the floss around the half of the other tooth in the same area. Repeat the same motion again, removing the plaque from this tooth. Once completed, pull the floss back through the contact point and begin the process over again in the next interdental area.

When the floss becomes frayed or soiled, unwind a fresh piece from your middle finger. After flossing its a good idea to rinse your mouth with water to loosen and remove any particles next to the teeth.

Would a water irrigating device help my periodontal condition?

Only in specific instances. A water irrigating device removes debris from between the teeth, known as “loose adherent” plaque. It is always beneficial to remove this plaque, but a residual, adherent plaque can still be found on the teeth and root surfaces. Adherent plaque is not removed by water irrigating devices. This plaque – adherent plaque – can damage the teeth and periodontal tissues by causing dental caries and periodontal disease. As a matter of fact, if a water irrigating device is angled incorrectly, it may drive bacteria into the periodontal tissues, causing more harm than good.

What else helps remove plaque?

Toothpicks are another tool that can be used to effectively remove plaque. They get to those last nooks and hiding places that both floss and toothbrushing may miss. The most effective way to remove plaque is by brushing your teeth in conjunction with utilizing another tool such as floss, proxabrush, toothpicks or other professionally recommended dental aids to clean between the teeth.

Do I hold the toothpick with my fingers?

Holding a toothpick with your fingers is minimally effective. Thats because after reaching those in-between spots in the front teeth, its hard to maneuver the toothpick toward the back of your mouth, and near-impossible to clean the inside (tongue side) of your teeth. Instead, we recommend using a Perio-Aid. A Perio-Aid is a plastic tool that is specially designed to hold the toothpick in the proper angle for cleaning in between all teeth, both outside and inside. If you have periodontal disease but do not use a Perio-Aid, ask your periodontist, dentist or hygienist for his/her opinion.