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Choosing the right floss | You have options

Why flossing is important

Most people know they should floss once a day, but not everyone knows why. Brushing your teeth does an excellent job of removing plaque from tooth surfaces, but brushing alone isn’t enough to keep tooth decay and gum disease at bay. By flossing, you can remove left over food particles and plaque from the places a toothbrush can't reach – like between your teeth and under the gum line.

Types of floss to use

There are several types of dental floss that can all get the job done. Pick one you like, that's easy for you to use, or that feels right for your mouth condition. The best floss or interdental cleaner is the one you'll use daily.

Nylon (multifilament) floss: Nylon flosses are composed of many strands of nylon fibers that help remove plaque from your teeth. This product is available both waxed and unwaxed. Unwaxed is thinner and easier to grip. Waxed may help the floss slide through the tooth easier and comes in different flavors like mint or cinnamon.

  • Advantages: This is thin floss that may work well if you have tight contacts between your teeth.
  • Disadvantages: This type of floss tends to shred easier than others when it catches on rough fillings or in tight tooth contacts.

Monofilament floss: This floss is a single strand polytetrafluorethylene (PFTE) fiber, the same material that’s used in high-tech Gore-Tex fabric and non-stick coatings. This type of floss is more expensive than multifilament nylon floss. It is available in different flavors and can also be wax coated.

  • Advantages: It slides very easily between teeth and is more break and shred-resistant than multifilament nylon floss.
  • Disadvantages: If you prefer all-natural products, this floss may not be for you as it is made from man-made substances.

Dental tape: A multistrand nylon that is thicker and flatter than regular floss. Comes waxed and unwaxed and in multiple flavors.

  • Advantages: Dental tape may be a good option for people with larger spaces between their teeth. It's less likely to break than regular floss.
  • Disadvantages: This may not the best option if you have tight contacts between teeth.

Super floss: This is a pre-cut floss that comes in individual pieces. It has 3 distinct segments, a stiff end that can be threaded under bridge work and around braces and implants, a regular floss segment for under the gums, and a puffy, spongy section for wide spaces and under dental appliances.

Electric flossers: There are two main types of electric flossers - water flossers (oral irrigators) and air flossers. Both types use a stream of water directed through a small specialized tip to blast away debris and plaque from between the teeth. An air flosser is also an oral irrigator but carries the tiny water droplets on a jet of air.

  • Advantages: Good for people who may have trouble manipulating floss with their fingers, such as those with physical impairments or older adults. Children who already use electric toothbrushes may find electric flossers fun and familiar to use. People with braces, implants or bridgework that is difficult to clean around may benefit.
  • Disadvantages: This option is more expensive than traditional dental floss and can be messy.

Interdental brushes: These tiny finger-held brushes are shaped like little trees and can be used to clean between the teeth and under the gumline. Studies show these perform very well and can be better than floss at removing plaque from between the teeth.

  • Advantages: They come in different sizes which allows easy access to different places within the mouth. These are also highly effective for people with existing periodontal problems, wide tooth spacing or with braces, bridgework or implants.

Flossing devices: For those that have a difficult time holding the floss between their fingers, various devices are available to make the job easier. These usually allow for one-hand operation:

  • Floss pics: These one-time use devices come with a small piece of floss pre-strung in a c-shape.
  • Floss holders: These devices are reusable and allow you to string your own piece of floss between two arms or as pre-strung one-time use devices. They are usually in a Y-shape but come in a variety of configurations.

While proper daily brushing is extremely important, flossing is a major part of achieving optimal oral health. This is because flossing and other cleaning aids work between the teeth to break up plaque that toothbrushing alone can't accomplish.

People often ask how frequently they should be flossing. While most dentists or hygienist will say once a day, the important thing is to get into a regular habit of flossing, because it plays a critical role in gingival health and preventing oral disease.