How to Floss Your Teeth




About: Hi, I'm Dr. Bob Canida. I've practiced dentistry in Madison, IN for over 30 years. My daughter Christy runs this site.

You should floss your teeth every day to reduce the incidence of tooth decay and gingivitis that leads to more serious gum disease. Here's one method that works well.


Step 1: Select Floss

Research indicates that any style floss is equally beneficial for plaque removal and gingivitis prevention when properly used.

Choices include:
waxed - best for rough surfaces/restorations in the mouth that snag unwaxed floss
unwaxed - thinner, slips between teeth and under gum tissue easily, flattens out against the tooth, and makes a squeaking noise when tooth is clean
Kevlar - strong and slick, resists tearing on rough surfaces/restorations
braided - stretchy yarn-type floss especially good for large spaces between teeth

Try them and see what works best for you. The important thing is that you do floss.

Step 2: Cut Floss

Cut floss into a manageable length, about 18 inches.

Note: we'll be using black unwaxed floss for better contrast in this Instructable. The color is otherwise irrelevant.

Step 3: Wrap Floss

Wrap a few turns of floss around the middle finger of your dominant hand, then wrap the rest around the middle finger of your opposing hand. Begin wrapping at the loose ends, and work your way towards the center of the floss.

As you use the floss, you will unspool clean floss from your off hand and wrap the used floss onto your dominant hand.

Step 4: Finger Positions

You will use two fingers to manipulate the floss inside your mouth. Press against the floss with the pads of your fingers, and direct it between your teeth as needed. Change up your grip as necessary - here are some tips to start out.

Both index fingers: good for reaching lower molars
Both thumbs: good for reaching upper molars
Thumb and index finger combination: good for upper and lower front teeth

Step 5: Insert Floss

Carefully insert the floss between your teeth with a light sawing motion. This is the only time you'll use a sawing motion - once the floss is through the contact (the tight junction between adjacent teeth - you'll likely feel a slight snap as the floss clears the contact) avoid sawing, as this can cut and damage the gums.

Slide the floss gently against the tooth surface up and under the gum line until you feel a light stop. This is a critical area to clean with the floss, but always be gentle - forcing the floss too high under the gum can cut and damage the gums.

If you haven't flossed recently or your gums are inflamed, they may be painful or bleed lightly. Don't stop - this indicates a need for more (gentle) flossing. If there is significant bleeding consult your dentist for a more thorough cleaning. Well-cleaned teeth with healthy gums don't bleed.

Step 6: Floss Teeth

Curve the floss against the tooth surface, maximizing surface contact between the floss and your teeth. Rub the floss up and down against the tooth surface, sliding from the tooth contact point up into the gum line and back.

Work the floss against one tooth then against the adjacent tooth, shifting your grip and direction as you move to the next tooth surface. Be careful not to damage the gum tissue between the teeth (called the papilla) as you shift the floss.

Pop the floss back out between the tooth contact, removing any dislodged debris, and move along to the next spot. Any remaining debris may need to be pushed out with a tool like a Stimudent, Proxibrush, or dental irrigator.

It's best to start from one spot and work systematically through your mouth to be sure you don't miss any teeth. Be sure to include the back side of your last molars as well.

Note: some adjacent teeth may not actually make contact. Be extra careful cleaning these spaces, as they are particularly prone to collecting food. You should consult your dentist about any open contacts, as he or she may advise closing these open contacts.

Step 7: Brush Your Teeth!

Now that you've finished flossing, don't forget to brush your teeth!



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    33 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I tie the floss into a large loop, otherwise i find it slips. You can rotate the loop as it wears.

    one thing i found that helps you hold the floss better is if you tie loops in the end, its easier to hold on to and doesnt cut off the circulation in your fingers


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Flossing is as a matter of fact more important than brushing. But of course, we have to do both.
    there is very good info about dental cavities and gum disease here:

    take care,
    thanks for the tips!


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Great instructable. I feel dirty ..... I'm off to floss!

    Phil B

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for this. I have been flossing for decades, but not very well. Only a couple years ago a dental hygienist explained about getting down under the gum line with a sawing action. After reading your Instructable I made a more serious attempt at doing that. Even though I floss daily, I was amazed how much bleeding there was the first day. It was significantly less the second day, and has disappeared after that. My teeth and gums "feel" cleaner when I finish, too.

    Bob Canidapie popper

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    This is another personal preference issue. I think that it is fine to do either first so long as one both brushes and flosses. My own preference is to floss, and potentially push out crud from between my teeth, then brush it away.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Darren, use of the "floss threaders" are the most efficient type of flossing method, in my opinion, but yes time consuming. Remember though, these are your teeth-forever. Floss threaders may be purchased OTC, very inexpensive. Another product that may help is called a "Go-Between Cleaner", the very smallest brushes used on the facial parts near your brackets. There is a new product called a "Platypus Flosser", i believe you can get them on-line, same concept as the floss picks, but MADE for braces. All dental products are about efficiency, keep practicing! Also use a mouth rinse that has the keywords "kills bacteria that cause gingivitis", even if you have to get generic brands, that will help keep the bacterial load in the mouth down. Plaque forms within 20 minutes after we brush our teeth, and tartar (calculus) forms within 24 to 72 hours if we do not remove it from between or on the teeth. When you return to the orthodontist, be sure to have them SHOW you best methods for cleaning your teeth & braces, that is part of the experience. Always, Tree RDH

    Bob CanidaDarren.

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Darren, good suggestion. I will try to work on that. I had assistance (a lot) on the first one from Christy. It would be a good solo test! Bob


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Bob, EXCELLENT job! Tree RDH


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I am a dentist. This style of flossing is called the Bass Sulcular Method. Great job!

    Bob Canida

    10 years ago on Introduction

    That is the wonderful aspect of pictures. I do understand now. The main thing is to come up with a technique that works and gets the job done easily and effectively. If this makes it better for you, then it is the way to go. Thanks for the clarification! Bob

    Bob CanidaDoctor What

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Doctor, the issue that turned me in to a daily flosser was the smell on the floss after skipping several days. I decided that I didn't want to carry that rotting material in my mouth between my teeth for an extended period of time.

    Doctor WhatBob Canida

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    (was talking about the pictures) I'm a daily flosser as well, but unfortunately, my hands are too big to fit into my mouth to get the back of my mouth. I switched to "plackers". They're really handy.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    . Excellent iBle! . I suspect nepotism on the Featured flag. heehee Not really. It fully deserves to be Featured. ;)