How to floss your teeth: An animated guide.

This page contains instructions for flossing your teeth. Here's a great way to use this information.

  • Study our directions and graphics and then demonstrate your interpretation of them to your dentist or dental hygienist at your next appointment.
  • They can then correct or refine your technique as needed. They may also be able to give you tips or pointers that can help to make flossing specific areas of your mouth easier or more effective.

Directions -

A) The way you hold your floss is important.

Start off by breaking off about 18 inches of dental floss from your dispenser. Then ...

  • Take each end and begin to wrap it around the middle two fingers of each of your hands.
  • Wrap most of it just on one hand (it doesn't matter which one).
  • Keep on wrapping until only about 3 to 4 inches of floss is left (as illustrated in our graphic).
The dental floss is held between the thumb and index finger.

Why hold it this way?

The idea behind using this method is this.

  • You'll hold the floss using the fingers it's wrapped on.
  • You'll then manipulate it (work it in between your teeth) using each hand's thumb and index finger.

Using this method is important because it's much harder to access difficult to reach spaces if you're trying to manipulate the floss with the same fingers you are holding it with.

Once you've finished wrapping, pinch the floss with both hands' thumb and index finger. There should be about 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches stretched in between (see our graphic). This is the piece that you'll floss with first.

B) Gently work the floss between your teeth.

To start, you'll need to work the floss past the contact point where two of your teeth touch.

  • If their contact is very tight, you may need to use a slight back and forth (sawing) motion to get it to go through.
  • You may also need to apply a small amount of pressure. But don't use so much force that it snaps past the contact and traumatizes your gums.
Wrap the dental floss up against the side of the tooth.

C) Slide the floss up and down on the side of each tooth.

At this point, the floss in a position where it's past where the two teeth touch but it's still not touching the gums.

To continue the flossing process, you'll need to pull the floss snugly up against the side of one of the two teeth. (Doing so maximizes the amount of surface area that it contacts.)

Clean the first tooth.

Now, while still keeping the pressure of the floss up against the tooth's surface, slide it up and down both above and especially below the gum line (as illustrated in our animation).

Continue on with this motion for a few strokes so you know that you have scrubbed the tooth's surface thoroughly.

Cleaning the second tooth.

Once you've finished cleaning the side of the first tooth you'll need to bring the floss back above the gum line, pull it up against the side of the other tooth, and then clean it just like you did the first one.

When you've finished scrubbing the sides of both teeth, both above and below the gum line, you've completed cleaning this one location.

Now all you need to do is bring the dental floss back out through the contact point and move on to the next area.

Other places to floss.

Besides cleaning between your teeth, don't overlook ...

  • The back side of the last teeth in your mouth.
  • That side of any teeth that face a space where a tooth has been removed.

(Even though your brush may be able to reach these areas, some dental plaque will accumulate below the gum line where a toothbrush has difficulty cleaning.)

Rules -

A) Always keep the pressure of the floss against your teeth.

Keep the pressure of the floss up against the side of your teeth and not directed onto your gum tissue.

The whole goal of flossing is to scrub dental plaque off teeth. Directing its force onto your gums serves no purpose and doing so will only traumatize them.

One sign of the use of this type of inappropriate technique is the formation of a cleft in the gum tissue that lies between two teeth (as illustrated in our animation).

B) Change the section of floss you are using from time to time.

As the bit of floss you are using becomes soiled, bloodied or frayed, bring a new section forward by letting go of one loop on one hand and taking the slack up with the other.

The idea of always trying to use a "clean" section of dental floss is somewhat of a myth. But there's no reason to give oral bacteria any help at all in recolonizing the areas you are cleaning.

So, and especially if you see a glob of dental plaque on your working section, go ahead and bring up a fresh length.

C) You should rinse your mouth out afterward.

Dislodged bacteria and debris may remain around and in between your teeth. Rinsing vigorously can help to complete the job of expelling these items out of your mouth.

[First published: March 2006 / Last updated 1/19/13]

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