Overcoming flossing problems.

Using dental floss can be difficult enough, without having to deal with places where it gets stuck or shreds, or areas that are tender or bleed easily. This page explains why these types of problems occur and what you need to do about them.

A) Areas where floss tears or gets stuck.

Places between your teeth where your floss can't slide around freely will keep you from cleaning that area thoroughly.

Having this type of situation implies that there is some sort of irregularity on the surface of the tooth or its restoration (see below). The problem might have a long-standing history or else be something that has just recently developed.

1) Temporary solutions.

Here are two pointers that can help you deal with this type of difficulty until you can schedule with your dentist and they can make a permanent fix.

a) Just let go of the floss.

If you find that your problem only happens when you try to remove the floss from in between certain teeth, try this.

After cleaning an area, don't pull the dental floss back through the contact point but instead just let go of one end and pull it out to the side.

b) Try a different kind of floss.

Different types of floss are more likely to catch or shred on rough surfaces. For example, waxed, as opposed to unwaxed floss, is typically less likely to snare or fray.

You can even buy dental floss that is made out of teflon. Teflon floss typically will not shred, and if it does get caught it will usually break and come free rather than getting stuck between your teeth. One brand of teflon dental floss is Glide®.

2) Permanent solutions.

a) Replacing flawed dental restorations.

A sharp edge or rough surface that's a part of a dental crown or filling can cause dental floss to break, shred, or get stuck. You'll have to consult with your dentist both for a diagnosis and a remedy.

Upon inspection, they may determine that your flawed or deteriorated restoration needs to be replaced. In other cases, your dentist may be able to simply trim or buff the offending edge with their drill so it's smoother.

b) Tooth decay and tartar build up.

Other types of tooth-surface irregularities can cause these same types of problems.

In some cases, tartar (dental calculus) may have formed on the tooth's surface. If so, you'll need to schedule a dental cleaning so it can be scraped off.

As shown in our animation, the presence of tooth decay can result in the formation of an irregularity on which dental floss may shred, break or get stuck.

B) Areas that bleed easily or are tender.

Dentists sometimes hear their patients say that they don't floss because it "cuts their gums and makes them bleed."

Anyone making this type of statement has a profound lack of understanding about why this condition exists in the first place.

Tenderness and bleeding are signs of gum inflammation, a condition that's the result of not flossing regularly and/or effectively.

The solution.

Instead of being a reason not to, these symptoms are the precise reason why a person should be flossing. (Here's the technique you should use.)

You may need to be extra careful or gentle when flossing these areas. But it's the only solution that will help them to heal and return to normal.

As healing takes place and the inflammation in your gums subsides, you should notice less and less bleeding and tenderness, to the point where you no longer notice these symptoms at all.

(If after a period of practicing a very diligent flossing regimen you still notice these same problems, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist so they can evaluate your situation. If nothing else, a good, thorough dental cleaning may be required.)

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