Interdental Cleaning (aka “flossing”)

Hate to floss? You aren’t alone. There are MANY ways to clean between your teeth besides the traditional 12-18 inches of “string”.

Think about it: if you showered daily, but never washed your hair, would you really feel clean? Same with your teeth and gums! Brushing correctly for two minutes only cleans about 40-50% of your mouth (and most people only brush for about 30-40 seconds -significantly less!). Flossing (or interdental cleaning) correctly gets another 20-25%. Scraping/brushing your tongue gets another 15-20%. Using a mouthwash and vigorous swishing for a full minute gets another few percentage points. (Even just chewing xylitol gum will help clean the mouth too).

I found that when I started to REALLY clean my mouth before going to bed, I would wake up WITHOUT the dreaded “morning breath”! How COOL is that?!?

What is important is to find which floss or floss alternative WORKS BEST FOR YOU! Because you won’t do it unless it is easy and painless! Are your hands “too big” and your mouth “too small” to use traditional floss? Do you have arthritis or other dexterity issues? Or, maybe you have very tight contacts, have areas that are food traps, have implants, bridges, lingual bars or braces, or maybe you have old fillings that shred your floss? All of these obstacles can be overcome! Easily! I promise! For every problem there are at least two or three alternatives that can help.

If your hands bled when you washed your hands you might realize you have a problem…right? Same with your gums. If your gums bleed when you brush or floss that is an indication of disease! After brushing and flossing correctly regularly for 3 weeks you should notice significantly less bleeding (or NO bleeding!). If your gums are still bleeding, even a little, it is time to visit a dental professional to determine the cause, as there can be several reasons and they have the instruments and tools to diagnose the specific issue.

The important thing is to clear the area around the base of each tooth of the sticky plaque & food debris that collects in the little collar of tissue where the gum and tooth meet (called the sulcus). If not regularly removed, the bacteria can fester, cause bleeding, develop deep “pockets” in your gums next to your teeth and can eventually cause your teeth to loosen! Yikes!

Here are examples of floss alternative products I like and  regularly recommend.


Pictured: Reach Access Flosser (great for tight contacts & no hands in the mouth!), GUM Soft-Picks (very tiny rubbery toothpick slides between teeth at the base of teeth -great if you have lingual bars or if floss shreds between certain teeth), Sulcabrush (narrow tipped brush that can fit between teeth and BEHIND those very back teeth-again, no hands in the mouth!), GUM rubber tip Stimulator (not usually my first pick, but better than nothing!), and Water Pik oral irrigator -which is great if you still really hate flossing, have areas that continue to bleed or have dreaded food traps (I LOVE my Water Pik irrigator after I eat popcorn!! Gets every little hull out!).

But wait! There’s MORE! There are also traditional toothpicks (if used correctly), Stimudents (which are softer than traditional toothpicks & a little kinder to gums), Go-Betweens/proxabrushes (they are small bristle-brushes that look like bottle brushes that fit between gaps in teeth & under bridges), numerous small pre-threaded flossers (great for on-the-go & for kids to learn how to floss), special flossers for braces -no threading required! (Platypus ortho flosser, is one) and a few sonic/electronic flossers. There are so many floss alternatives it is hard to list them all!

How to floss CORRECTLY: 

Note: there are MANY different types of floss too..from very slick floss that slips between very tight teeth, to fluffy filament floss (almost like yarn) that cleans around implants, bridges and other dental work and many in-between. Try different types to find the one that works best for you.

To receive maximum benefits from flossing, use the following proper technique:

  • Starting with about 18 inches of floss, wind most of the floss around each middle finger, leaving an inch or two of floss to work with.
  • Holding the floss tautly between your thumbs and index fingers, slide it gently up-and-down between your teeth.
  • Gently curve the floss around the base of each tooth, making sure you go beneath the gumline. Never snap or force the floss, as this may cut or bruise delicate gum tissue.
  • Use clean sections of floss as you move from tooth to tooth.
  • To remove the floss, use the same back-and-forth motion to bring the floss up and away from the teeth.

If you have any special needs, problems or issues, you can contact me with your question and I would be happy to help recommend products that would help you achieve better oral health!

Ann Ossinger is a Registered Dental Hygienist who owns DoorStep DentalHygiene, LLC, a mobile dental hygiene service that provides dental hygiene services to people who would otherwise be unable to go to a regular dental clinic in the Linn-Benton Counties of Oregon. 541-990-0814. Please contact Ann if you have any questions!