Illustration by Daria Krikunova.
Pretty much any health class around the world includes a lesson on flossing – usually accompanied by repeated mentions of its importance. A combination of flossing and brushing is necessary to scrub clean all five sides of your teeth.
Unfortunately, the parts tackled by flossing are also the least visible ones, which may explain why this task is often overlooked. The great thing about oral care is that it’s largely about building long-term habits – so it is never too late. Here’s a crash course to get you back onto the habit.
What Difference Does Flossing Make
A study published in 2018 (1) showed that less than 33% of adults floss more than five times a week, while 32% reported never doing it at all. Meanwhile, a survey by the American Academy of Periodontology showed that 27% of people admit to lying to their dentists about their flossing habits (2).
On the other hand, flossing between two and four times a week is linked to a lower prevalence of the periodontal disease. This benefit appeared across all genders and age groups, and even among smokers (3). Plus, by keeping those side spots clean, flossing makes you less likely to develop the kind of cavities that need filling between the teeth.
How to Floss Properly
If you are building a flossing habit from scratch, it’s best to do it right from the beginning. That way, you won’t need to change your routine twice!
The steps below are the flossing equivalent of dotting all your I’s:
Get the right equipment: Only the flossing string is mandatory, but a flossing stick makes everything slide smoother.
Floss before you brush – that will leave a clean surface for fluoridated cream to act on (4).
Take a piece of string of about 18 inches and wrap the ends on your middle fingers. For reference, try tying a circle of floss the size of an orange. This should be large enough to handle easily without wasting.
Use your index fingers and thumbs to select a section in the middle and snap it taut. That extra springy section will go in between your teeth.
Form a slight curve with it against each side of the tooth. Move it up and down gently – like you would if you were drying your back with a towel.
Before moving onto the next tooth, slide your index and thumbs to one side to select a fresh piece.
5 Tips to Stay on Track
Building a new habit takes some patience, at least until the habit sticks. These five tips will help you out.
Place a small sign, a smartphone alert, or use an existing part of your bedtime routine to remind you of flossing.
Fun and pleasurable activities are easier to follow. You can watch TV or listen to the radio while flossing, which will also motivate you to floss more thoroughly.
Tick a box off your calendar for every day you floss properly. Plan a reward after a full week and month!
Keep your dental floss visible, in a place where you can’t avoid seeing it. It will serve as a constant reminder and help you remember to floss.
Use your favourite song to time yourself.
1. Fleming, E. B., Nguyen, D., Afful, J., Carroll, M. D., & Woods, P. D. (2018). Prevalence of daily flossing among adults by selected risk factors for periodontal disease-United States, 2011-2014. Journal of Periodontology, 89(8), 933–939. https://doi.org/10.1002/JPER.17-0572
2. American Academy of Periodontology. (2015) More Than a Quarter of U.S. Adults are Dishonest with Dentists about How Often They Floss Their Teeth. Press Release by the AAP Foundation. Available online:
3. Cepeda, M. S., Weinstein, R., Blacketer, C., & Lynch, M. C. (2017). Association of flossing/inter-dental cleaning and periodontitis in adults. Journal of clinical periodontology, 44(9), 866–871. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpe.12765
4. Mazhari F, Boskabady M, Moeintaghavi A, Habibi A. The effect of toothbrushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of Periodontology. 2018 Jul; 89(7):824-832. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29741239