How to floss your teeth - An animated guide.

- Instructions (with animations) outlining proper technique for flossing your teeth effectively.

Learning how to floss isn't all that difficult.

This page begins our step by step guide to flossing your teeth effectively. And as you'll soon find out, learning how to do so is simple enough.

In most cases, the difference between just going through the motions vs. actually being effective in your efforts only has to do with performing a few extra motions with the floss once you've gotten it positioned in between your teeth.

So as you read through our pages, pay special attention to learning how to do those simple "extra" things we explain (most of which are probably things you just never realized you should be doing). Following through with them will make all of the difference in the results you get.

Instructions for flossing your teeth.

Step #1: Holding the floss in a way that allows you to be effective.

The way you hold your dental floss on your hands is a vitally important part of your flossing routine.

It must be a way that simultaneously gives you control over the string, yet doesn't restrict the reach and movement of your fingers as they're used to manipulate it in between your teeth and throughout all sections of your mouth.

A lot of flossing sessions are doomed from the start.

For so many people, the single point of how their floss is held derails their efforts right from the get-go. They're not effective flossers because the way they hold their floss makes it impossible for them to be.

 

a) You'll hold the floss with these fingers.

(If our animation isn't playing, here's the solution.)

Instructions: How to hold your dental floss with your hands.

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

a) How you'll hold the floss.
  • Take each end and begin to wrap it around the middle two fingers of each of your hands.
  • Wrap the majority of it on just one but it doesn't matter which.
  • Keep on wrapping until only about 3 to 4 inches of floss length is left between your hands.
b) How you'll work the floss around.

b) You'll manipulate the floss with these fingers.

The dental floss is held between the thumb and index finger.
  • Once you've finished wrapping there should be about 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches stretched between your hands. (Admittedly, our illustration "b" probably shows about twice the length you want.)
  • The idea is that this section can be pinched by both hands' thumb and index finger. It's then those digits (or some combination of them) that are used to work the floss around between your teeth in the various far reaches of your mouth.
  • The section that lies between your hands is simply the first one that you'll use. Then later on you'll unwrap the floss from one hand and take up this slack on the other so you have a fresh length to use.

Why hold it this way?

The idea behind using this method is this ...

  • You'll hold the floss (anchor it on your hands) by way of the fingers it's wrapped around.
  • You'll then manipulate it (work it in between your teeth, up and down, etc...) using each hand's thumb and index finger.

Using this method is important because you'll be using a separate set of fingers for each function. It's much much harder, if not outright impossible, to access difficult to reach spaces if you're trying to both manipulate and hold the floss with the same set of fingers.

Why 18 inches?

A full foot and a half of dental floss may seem like an awfully lot. And maybe it is, maybe it isn't.

Using that much now as you are learning is definitely the right move. But later on after you've become so well versed in flossing technique that you've become an expert in your own right, then it's up to you to decide exactly how much you need.

Step #2: Gently work the floss between your teeth.

To get started cleaning between any two teeth, you'll need to get your floss past the contact point where their sides touch each other.

  • If the contact point 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 the floss past the contact point and traumatizes your gums.
Wrap the dental floss up against the side of the tooth.

Step #3: Slide the floss up and down against the side of each tooth.

At this point, the floss is in a position where it's beyond where the two teeth touch but it's still not touching the gums (it's just barely past the contact point).

To continue the flossing process, pull the string snugly up against the side of one of the two teeth (it doesn't matter which one).

This action is important because it maximizes the amount of surface contact between the tooth and floss. (Note in our graphic how the floss cups around the curved side of the tooth for maximum contact.)

 

(If our animation isn't playing, here's the solution.)

a) Cleaning the first tooth of the pair.

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.

b) Cleaning the second tooth of the pair.

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.

Step #4: Remove the floss from between your teeth.

Once you've finished cleaning between two teeth, all you need to do is bring the floss back out of their communal space.

a) Routine removal.

In most cases all you'll need to do is simply pull the floss back past the contact point. And even if it takes a slight tug, it should be an easier, simpler job to take out than it was to get in.

b) Cases where something (anything at all) seems amiss.

As opposed to routine cases, if during the removal process you encounter some resistance, or get any hint that the process isn't going to be perfectly straightforward, another method you can use is to simply let the floss unwrap from one of your hands and then pulling it out to the side.

Doing it this way means you'll have to re-wrap the floss before starting up again. But that's such a tiny inconvenience as compared to actually getting the floss stuck that you should be quick to use this method if any uncertainties arise at all.

Step #5: Repeat.

At this point it's not too hard to guess that the next needed step is to simply repeat the above process between the next pair of your teeth. Actually, this will be your next 30 steps if you have all 32 teeth.

Advance to a clean section of floss.

As mentioned above, the idea of wrapping such a long length of dental floss (18 inches or so) on your fingers initially has to do with it giving you additional unsoiled portions to use during your flossing process.

At least in theory, you should advance to a clean section for use between each new pair of teeth. You do this by letting some floss unwrap from the fingers on one hand and then wrapping this slack up on the fingers of your other.

Step #6: Other places to floss.

Besides cleaning between your teeth, don't overlook these additional locations ...

  • The back side of the rear-most teeth in your mouth.
  • That side of any tooth that faces a space where a tooth has been removed.

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


 

Dental flossing rules -

(If our animation isn't playing, here's the solution.)

a) Keep the pressure of your floss against your teeth.

An important consideration when flossing is that the pressure created by your activities must always be directed against the hard surface 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 inappropriately directing the force of your floss onto your gums is the formation of a cleft in the 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're using becomes soiled, bloodied or frayed, bring a new section forward by letting go of one loop of wrapped floss 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 after flossing.

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 10/4/17]


How to instruct your browser to play our Flash flossing animations.

The current trend in web browsers is that they are able to play Flash animations (the type of animations used on this page) but doing so is not the default setting.

It's easy enough to instruct your web browser to go ahead and play them. The following links provide the information you need to do so (Windows and Mac OS).

 
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