Dental floss (or dental tape) and other interdental cleaners (e.g., small brushes, special wooden or plastic picks, sticks or water flossers) removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it has a chance to harden into plaque. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces.
Plaque that is not removed can harden into tartar, a hard mineral deposit that forms on teeth and can only be removed through professional cleaning by a dental professional. When this happens, brushing and cleaning between teeth become more difficult, and gum tissue can become swollen or may bleed. This condition is called gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease.
Interdental cleaning helps remove debris and interproximal dental plaque, the plaque that collects between two teeth. Dental floss and other interdental cleaners help clean these hard-to-reach tooth surfaces and reduce the likelihood of gum disease and tooth decay. Use of an interdental cleaner (like floss) is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also reaffirmed flossing as “an important oral hygiene practice” in an August 2016 communication to the ADA.
Floss and Other Interdental Cleaners
Floss was once made from silk fibers twisted to form a long strand. Today, floss is usually made from nylon filaments or plastic monofilaments. The U.S Food and Drug Administration classifies dental floss as a Class I device, which means it is deemed to be low risk and subject to the least regulatory controls. Floss may be treated with flavoring agents, such as mint, to make flossing more pleasant. There is no difference in the effectiveness of waxed or unwaxed floss, although rare cases of contact hypersensitivity to waxed or coated floss have been reported. It’s generally not what type of floss is used, but how and when it’s used.
While floss is a flexible strand, other interdental cleaners specifically made for this purpose include dental picks, pre-threaded flossers, tiny brushes that reach between the teeth, water flossers, or wooden plaque removers.
When’s the best time to floss?
The ADA recommends brushing twice a day and cleaning between teeth with floss (or another interdental cleaner) once a day. Some people prefer to floss in the evening before bedtime so that the mouth is clean while sleeping. Others prefer to floss after their midday meal. Still others chose to floss first thing as a part of their morning ritual. The bottom line is that best time to floss is the time that fits well with the individual’s schedule.
Should I brush or floss first?
Either way is acceptable as long as you do a thorough job. Some people like to floss before brushing to better ensure that any material between teeth is swept out of the mouth. Others prefer to first clean their mouth by brushing before working with floss between their teeth. However, those who brush their teeth and skip flossing because they think their mouth feels clean or are short on time or tired and postpone flossing for some later time are likely missing out because flossing may never happen.
Can I rinse and reuse floss?
The ADA does not recommend using a floss strand more than once. Used floss might fray, lose its effectiveness, or may deposit bacteria in the mouth. Discard after use.