Solutions for flossing problems. -

What to do if your floss gets hung up or stuck. | How to manage areas that bleed easily or are sensitive.

Flossing can be difficult enough without having to deal with places where your floss gets stuck or shreds, or areas that tend to bleed easily or are tender.

This page explains why these types of problems occur, and what needs to be done about them.

A) Areas where your floss tears or gets stuck.

Underlying concerns.

Any places between your teeth where you can't slide your floss around freely are generally associated with two problems.

  • At minimum, the area will be one that you can't clean thoroughly. And despite the fact that we've used the word minimum here, this is a major issue and concern.
  • As a more noticeable complication, when attempting to floss the area your floss may shred, break or snag.

    While hopefully what you experience is simply a minor inconvenience, in the most extreme cases this type of disruption may bring all of your flossing activities to a halt. And if during the episode a part of your tooth has come loose (usually its dental restoration), it may even trigger a need for a trip to your dentist's office.

Underlying causes.

It's probably pretty obvious to most people that this type of situation is caused by some type of irregularity (roughness, sharp edge, added bulk) associated with the surface contours of the tooth.

  • The irregularity might be entirely confined to the tooth itself (a broken tooth, a surface that's been damaged by tooth decay).
  • It could be dental buildup (tartar/calculus) on the tooth.
  • The irregularity might be associated with the tooth's dental restoration (see below for examples and details).

What you notice might have a long-standing history, or else be something that has just recently developed.

However, despite what you may think or have been told, there is nothing common, usual or acceptable about these types of problem areas. A permanent solution should be sought (as discussed below). Failing to do so will only lead to dental problems (frequently tooth decay or gum disease).

1) Temporary solutions.

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

a) Just let go of the floss.

If you find that your problem only occurs when you try to remove the floss from in between the 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. It will usually pull through easily.
b) Try using a different kind of floss.

Some types of flosses are more prone to snagging or shredding on rough tooth surfaces.

  • As an example, waxed as opposed to unwaxed floss is typically less likely to snare or fray.
  • Try buying a brand of floss made out of teflon. This kind of floss typically will not shred, and if it does get caught in between your teeth it will usually break and come free rather than staying stuck.

    Brands of teflon dental floss include Glide® and Satin®. Generic brands exist too.

An overhang on a dental filling that interferes with flossing.

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

2) Permanent solutions for places where dental floss gets stuck or shreds.

a) Have flawed dental restorations replaced.

A sharp edge or rough surface that's 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.

FYI: Dentists refer to that part of a dental restoration that extends beyond the contours of its tooth (and therefore interferes with flossing) as an "overhang." (See illustration.)

Tooth damage caused by decay can make it hard to floss.

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

b) Have tooth decay repaired and tartar buildup removed.

Dental pathology can also be the cause of tooth-surface irregularities.

Dental tartar.

In some cases tartar buildup (dental calculus) may have formed on the tooth's surface to the point where its bulk or surface roughness interferes with flossing.

If that's the case in your situation, you'll need to schedule a dental cleaning so your dentist or their hygienist can scrape it off.

Tooth decay.

As shown in our animation, the formation of a cavity can create an irregularity in a tooth's surface or contours that makes it difficult or even impossible to floss.

Having the cavity repaired will not only stop the tooth damage that's occurring from becoming even more extensive but the filling placed will restore your ability to floss and prevent future problems.

 

Plaque accumulation at and below the gum line causes gum tissue bleeding and tenderness.

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

B) Areas that bleed easily or are tender.

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

And for most members of the dental community, their thoughts in return are simply that the person making the statement has no concept of why their condition exists in the first place.

The proper explanation of this type of scenario is not that the act of flossing has caused the problem. Instead it's that tenderness and bleeding are signs of gum inflammation, a condition that's the result of not flossing regularly enough and/or effectively.

The needed solution.

As just stated, instead of being a reason not to floss these symptoms are the precise reason why a person should be flossing (and likely more often and more diligently). Here's instructions for the technique you should use.

What to watch for.

In the beginning you may need to be extra careful or gentle when flossing these areas. But cleaning thoroughly between your teeth is the only solution that will help your gums to heal and be able to return to normal.

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

If you don't notice any improvement.

If after a period of practicing diligent flossing you still notice your same symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist so they can evaluate your situation.

It's possible that you simply need a good dental cleaning so to remove the dental buildup (tartar) on your teeth that your flossing efforts cannot. With more severe cases, treatment for gum disease may be required before your tissue can be brought back to health.

 
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