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How to Floss Your Teeth Correctly

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This article will provide in-depth tips on how to floss correctly, provided by a dental hygienist.

This article will provide in-depth tips on how to floss correctly, provided by a dental hygienist.

Flossing Can Seem Daunting

Did you know it's important to floss correctly? You can permanently damage your gum tissues by flossing incorrectly, and there's a much greater likelihood of developing cavities between your teeth if you aren't removing all the biofilm daily.

Everybody has biofilm (plaque) between their teeth, and everybody needs to floss—it's a fact of life. Though dentists and hygienists recommend flossing once a day, many people aren't sure how to floss their teeth.

I've noticed that many people jab the floss between their teeth, move it around and back and forth with no real methodology, and think that's all there is to it, and that it's effective. It's often not effective at all, however, and actually does damage to the gums.

It is very simple to floss correctly, but like most things, it's only simple when you know how to do it. There are right ways and wrong ways of going about it. I'll outline the methods accepted by dental hygienists below.

Flossing is how you help your dentist help you.

Flossing is how you help your dentist help you.

Basic Steps

  1. Break off 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) of dental floss.
  2. Wrap the floss around your middle fingers and pinch it with each thumb and index finger.
  3. Slip the floss between your teeth (between the "contacts" where the teeth touch). Make a "C" shape with the floss around each tooth. Gently move the floss up and down five to eight times. When the floss becomes coated, move to a clean piece. You can do this by wrapping the floss around your non-dominant middle finger once, while unwrapping it once from your dominant middle finger.
  4. Alternative: Use a "floss holder" to floss, using the same methodology.
Flossing is as essential as brushing.

Flossing is as essential as brushing.

1. Break Off 12–18 Inches (30–45 cm) of Floss

Why do we need so much floss? Well, when the floss gets dirty with bacteria and gunk, we want to move to a fresh piece. This ensures that we're getting rid of the bacteria, which is actually the point of flossing.

Personally, I prefer to use about 12 inches (30 cm) of floss. Practice using different lengths of floss until you find what you like the best. Too much floss can cut off the circulation in your fingers, while too little floss defeats the purpose of flossing.

2. Wrap the Floss Around Your Fingers

The basic way to do this is to use your "middle" fingers on each hand. In your non-dominant hand, wrap the floss twice around your middle finger. In your dominant hand, wrap the floss around your middle finger until there are a couple inches of "free" floss between your hands. This "free" floss will help ensure that your gums are not harmed by undue force. Please see video below.

Video: How to Wrap the Floss Around Your Fingers

3. Wrap Floss Around Teeth Using "C" Shape

In dental hygiene and dentistry, this is called "The C-Shape Method" of flossing. This method is the accepted method of flossing because it removes the most plaque and debris from between the teeth and under the gumline. In addition, it does the least damage to your gum tissue.

First you need to work the floss between the "contacts" where two teeth meet (if they meet). The easiest way to accomplish this is by gently moving the floss back and forth while giving slight pressure.

When the floss is between your teeth, arc the floss in a "C" shape around one tooth, move it up and down, and then move to the tooth beside it. Please see the video below.

Video: Using the C-Shape Method

4. How to Floss With Floss Picks

Many people prefer using a floss pick, or "floss holder" to floss their teeth. I would say that this is fine, but it is more difficult to use the "C"-Shape Method, thus may not be quite as effective as string floss.

That said, however, any flossing is better than none, and with a little practice, you may be able to implement the "C"-shape method to a large degree. Please see video, below.

Clean As You Go

As you're flossing, rinse the floss as you go. Follow with mouthwash. You want all the bacteria out, multiple times per day!

Re-Using Floss Picks

You can re-use floss picks a few times until the string is no longer tight or is frayed. Be sure to rub the gunk off the string under water, and follow with a dip into Listerine (a very effective natural antibacterial.) Let air dry between uses.

Video: Using a Floss Pick


Flossing is easy when you know how to do it! With a little practice it should only take a few minutes per day. Flossing is virtually the most important step in oral health and hygiene.

Hopefully you will now understand the proper methods used in dentistry and dental hygiene; however, if you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask them in the Comments section below!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Kate P


Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 09, 2012:

Hi May,

You don't need to use a new section until gunk ends up on the floss. Then move just a couple millimeters (mm) down the floss to make sure it's clean of debris. Using 4 feet of floss is waaay too much, since it's fairly costly stuff. Try just moving a couple mm each time the floss gets covered in debris. Also, try brushing your teeth before flossing to minimize the amount of debris you find while flossing.

I hope that helps, and thanks for reading and commenting. Don't get discouraged: it takes time and practice to get this right.

may on September 08, 2012:

I find that 18 inches of floss is not enough if we were to use a new section of the floss for each tooth. I ended up using 45 inches. Am I doing it wrong?

may on September 08, 2012:

If I were to use a fresh section of the floss for each tooth, I find that 18inches of the floss is not enough. I ended up using roughly 47 inches!!..My floss finishes fast. I am doing it not quite rightly.

David Loyal on August 30, 2012:

Very comprehensive article about a main issue mostly people face when flossing. Really good article. This hub is very very useful. thnx. I also found some other article that now explain how to floss but explain other things about it as well:

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on August 24, 2012:

Flossing is tricky, and most people have an issue with it (so did I for much of my life.) I'm glad you found this hub useful, and hopefully you'll be able to perfect your technique a little more with some practice. Please feel free to link to any of my hubs; I appreciate it. Thanks for the wonderful comment as well!

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on August 23, 2012:

This is very helpful, I seem to never perfect flossing, as long as I do it, then its good to go. Thanks for your tips, I think I won't be cheating, haha. I would love to link my hub "Brushing Your Teeth Can Save Your Heart" to this -- I believe your article will add more info as I touched about flossing. So glad I made it by. Voted up and useful!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on November 30, 2011:

Thanks for your comments! Just so you know, you have to start flossing about 7-10 days before a hygiene visit or we'll know you're cheating. But why cheat, anyway? Once you get the hang of this it'll only take you a few minutes. A few minutes a day to save your teeth is Totally Worth It! Keep it up you guys! :)

Jasmine on November 19, 2011:

Floss is one of the best things ever invented :) I know so many people who don't use floss, and I'm surprised that it is so! Interesting hub :)

Richard E. on October 11, 2011:

and i thought my method was so good too! i'd pull the string in and out between my teeth and it kind of hurt so i would just do it a few days before every dentist appointment and quit again. i wonder if they knew. but now i'll give this a try and see how goes. much appreciated for the tips, a lot of people probably need this advice.

RC Ramli on June 13, 2011:

Wow. This is a very useful hub. Hopefully I'll remember these when I have kids so I can teach them the proper way to floss!

Bob on March 18, 2011:

Well I been doing it wrong all these years. But now I know how to do it right. Thank you for the article I will pass it along.