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Using dental floss correctly: How to do it

We all know the feeling: After a meal, tiny particles of food become lodged between our teeth, causing discomfort. Even worse is when we fail to notice these particles nestling between our teeth. Lurking there invisible and malevolent, they instigate the onset of dental caries. 

That is why it is so important to clean the spaces between your teeth every day. But what tool is best? Many people choose dental floss. When dealing with very tight interdental spaces where there really is no way for an interdental brush to get through, this approach might be recommendable. 

Before discovering why flossing is usually not the best choice, let us first address some fundamental questions: What is dental floss made of? And: How do you use it correctly? 

min read
Aug 2023
min read
Aug 2023


What is dental floss?

You can buy dental floss in every drugstore or pharmacy. The very fine threads can be made of various materials: From the horse hair "floss" of ancient times and the silk thread "floss" of the 1800s to the nylon or polyethylene floss of today. An eco-friendly alternative to traditional floss is the plastic-free option, such as the innovative corn starch-based variant.

Despite being considered particularly tear resistant, a piece of dental floss can occasionally break in half or leave behind small remnants of material wedged in between your teeth. 

Good to know: 

You only clean roughly 70 percent of the surface of your teeth with a toothbrush. The remaining 30 percent is concealed in the hard-to-reach interdental spaces. The most effective way to clean these spaces is with an interdental brush. We provide a wide range of interdental brushes in various sizes, catering to both narrow and wider spaces. Very rarely is an interdental space too narrow for an interdental brush 

How often and when should you floss? 

We recommend brushing your teeth at least twice a day, ideally in the morning and in the evening. And if you can manage to brush your teeth more than that, even better. So, why should this routine not extend to your interdental spaces? Thoroughly cleaning interdental spaces before going to bed is crucial to prevent dental plaque and food debris from settling between and on your teeth for extended periods of time.

Flossing before or after brushing your teeth? 

Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to this question. Brushing your teeth is always a matter of individual preference, and this is also true for cleaning your interdental spaces. If you have had a long day, for instance, and enjoyed a few sweets, it is best to first brush your teeth thoroughly in the evening before turning your attention to your interdental spaces. This significantly reduces the risk of transporting lingering food debris from the day into your interdental spaces when using dental floss.

However, if you follow a very thorough evening dental care routine, for example, you can also safely floss in the morning before brushing your teeth. The risk of food debris ending up in the interdental spaces due to the dental floss is then much lower.

We want you to know that: A thorough daily dental routine is what matters most and not whether you clean your interdental spaces before or after brushing your teeth! You are right on track if you clean your interdental spaces correctly on a regular basis. 

What type of dental floss is best?

Those who opt to floss are spoilt for choice. The small threads are available in a wide variety of designs: Dental floss with activated charcoal, waxed or unwaxed, enriched with fluoride, chlorhexidine or flavours. Allow us to introduce and explain the various types below: 

Waxed dental floss

This type of dental floss features a wax-coated thread, resulting in a slightly thicker thread compared to traditional dental floss. Waxed floss is renowned for gliding easier and smoother through the tight spaces between your teeth. Given its alleviating properties, this option is frequently favoured by individuals experiencing tooth sensitivity or whose gums are prone to bleeding.

However, the smoother surface due to the wax also represents a notable drawback: Food debris and dental plaque adhere less effectively to waxed floss, often resulting in their incomplete removal. In addition, smaller particles of wax can occasionally get stuck between your teeth and cause a disagreeable sensation. 

PTFE-coated dental floss 

PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene – better known as Teflon. The thread is coated with this substance. 

Our DF 820 PTFE dental tape is, therefore, extra tear resistant and slides easily through tight interdental spaces. The disadvantage is that PTFE-coated dental floss is not exactly sustainable. So, always remember to dispose of used dental floss in household waste and not out in the open; no matter how small the threads might be.

Unwaxed dental floss 

Unwaxed dental floss is not as smooth as its waxed counterpart but offers a superior overall grip. Consequently, its cleaning efficacy is slightly better, too. This is mainly because unwaxed floss frays a little when threaded through teeth, enabling greater adherence of food debris and dental plaque. However, there is a potential risk of small fibres of floss becoming lodged between your teeth. 

Dental tape 

Dental tape is somewhat wider than conventional dental floss. It is, however, relatively flat. Many people opt for dental tape as it is a little easier to handle than the small, thin threads. The tape version also cuts into the palms and fingers less and is thus more pleasant to use. 


Superfloss is a dental floss with expanding fibres. This makes the thread more fleecy than normal dental floss. It is, therefore, often used for wider interdental spaces. However, in these cases, we recommend utilising interdental brushes instead. Studies have demonstrated their superior efficacy in cleaning interdental spaces compared to dental floss. 

Good to know: 

Does dental floss combat bad breath? There is no direct correlation. But generally speaking, thorough cleaning of your interdental spaces helps to prevent bad breath. Since bacteria can accumulate in these gaps, leading to malodours, proper cleaning of your interdental spaces is crucial. The cleaner your teeth, the fresher your breath. The most effective way to clean interdental spaces is with an interdental brush.

When buying dental floss: Always check the ingredients

When choosing dental floss, it is well worth taking a closer look at the small print. Since the ingredients are not always friendly to the environment as, for example, the German consumer magazine ÖKO-TEST recently reported. According to the article, critical ingredients may be present in both the material and the coating. These include petroleum-based coatings such as paraffins, the chemical substance PEG or PEG derivatives – all of which are not exactly eco-friendly. 

Children and dental floss: Yes or no?

Children and toothbrushing; this is not always a happy combination to say the least. Hence, the responsibility largely falls on parents to ensure that their children's teeth receive the necessary care. Toothbrushing alone – as with adults – is not enough to ensure perfect dental health. Adequate attention must also be given to the hard-to-reach interdental spaces when brushing children's teeth, ensuring they are thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis.

This is not quite so easy with dental floss. Children often struggle with handling the thin threads, which can lead to frustration; and even some adults find it a challenging task. Additionally, it is quite difficult to help children with dental floss. Parents may be able to reach the front teeth with dental floss, but tackling the molars can prove to be a more complex undertaking. 

When can children start using dental floss?

Irrespective of the chosen tools, it is important to make children realise that they also need to clean the spaces between their teeth. The earlier, the better. The simplest and most effective way is to practise using interdental brushes together with your child. They are easier to use than dental floss – and it is a total misconception to think that they are unsuitable for children.

Calmly explain the purpose and usage of an interdental brush to your child and clean the interdental spaces together with them. Parents can easily assist their child with interdental brushes. These brushes are easier to handle than lengthy threads of floss and more effective, too. 

Our interdental brushes are suitable for both adults and children. And are you already familiar with our toothbrushes and toothpastes specifically designed for children? 

Dental floss vs. interdental brush – and the winner is?

What are the real benefits of flossing? The tiresome and tedious use of dental floss leaves many individuals questioning its practicality. Studies show: Interdental brushes outperform dental floss in effectively cleaning the gaps between your teeth. Moreover, interdental brushes are easier to handle compared to the thin threads. Above all though, interdental brushes capture a greater amount of dental plaque and food debris compared to smooth and slippery floss. Particularly when cleaning molars, dental floss is pushed to its limits. These teeth often have additional grooves and indentations that a thread fails to reach properly.

In contrast, interdental brushes fill the entire interdental space, ensuring thorough cleaning of these recesses as well. With a wide range of sizes available, interdental brushes are suitable for cleaning every interdental space. However, if the gap is so tight that even the smallest brush cannot pass through it, you should try flossing. 

Are you already acquainted with our smallest interdental brush IDB CPS 06? With an impressive accessibility of 0.6 millimetres, it is one of the finest brushes available on the market. It effortlessly slides through the narrowest of gaps, making it an ideal choice for individuals with sensitive teeth. 

Having problems with dental floss? Here are the biggest pitfalls  

Flossing can prove difficult at times. We have compiled the main challenges –- and their solutions – for you: 

Dental floss emits an unpleasant odour when you use it

Do not worry: This is a good sign! It means that the floss has effectively removed food debris and dental plaque from between your interdental spaces. The thread likely collects and retains the food debris and dental plaque, causing the floss to develop a malodour. What causes the removed food debris on the dental floss to smell so bad? The unpleasant odour is a result of organic decomposition processes initiated by the bacteria responsible for dental decay. Regular cleaning of the interdental spaces is likely to diminish the intensity of the odour over time. 

Dental floss causes gums to bleed

Actually, your gums should not bleed during or after flossing. However, if they do, it could be a sign of gum disease (gingivitis). Insufficient oral hygiene is typically responsible for such inflammation. But not cleaning your interdental spaces because of bleeding gums leads to a detrimental cycle: Food particles continue to accumulate in the gaps. Plaque develops, gradually transforming into tartar, which often leads to gingivitis.

Another reason for bleeding gums might be that you exert too much force when pulling the thread of dental floss through the contact points of your teeth. This can happen very quickly with dental floss, basically making you lose complete control of the pressure of the thread on the contact point when using it. Interdental brushes are, therefore, a superior choice for cleaning the spaces between your teeth. They offer greater ease of use, gentler cleaning and reduced complexity and have a proven track record of higher effectiveness.

And most importantly: Always consult your dentist if you are experiencing bleeding gums. A dentist should be your first point of contact. 

Dental floss gets stuck between teeth

While not particularly harmful, dental floss stuck between your teeth can be somewhat unpleasant and annoying. Due to the significant inconvenience caused by even the tiniest of particles being stuck in the interdental spaces, people often resort to reckless measures, such as poking around with a toothpick, using the harder bristles of their toothbrush or even employing their fingernails. None of these are a good idea. As they all put you at risk of damaging your gums.

If a piece of floss becomes lodged in an interdental space, carefully attempt to dislodge it with a thin interdental brush. If this proves ineffective, do not hesitate to get in touch with your dentist for assistance. Your dentist can provide the necessary help and save you from experimenting on your own teeth.

Using interdental brushes is the best way to prevent dental floss from getting lodged between your teeth in the first place. They gently clean the interdental spaces with their soft bristles, eliminating the risk of fibres becoming trapped. 

Dental floss tends to tear easily

A familiar issue to the many people who use dental floss: After fighting your way through to the back molars with the thin thread and successfully inserting it between two tightly spaced teeth, it decides to tear, unfortunately. Quite annoying since you cannot continue flossing with such short threads. With a bit of luck, there is no floss stuck between your teeth.

The best way to avoid this mishap is to make sure that the piece of floss you are using is always about 30 centimetres long. By doing so, you can wrap the ends around your fingers multiple times, ensuring a secure grip. This may also help to prevent the dental floss from tearing so quickly. 

Dental floss does not fit between your teeth

If the gaps between your teeth are extremely narrow, it can prevent floss from passing through them. In this case, switching from an unwaxed dental floss to a waxed one could be worth a try. These threads are designed to glide more smoothly through narrow contact points. This also holds true for dental tape.

However, waxed dental floss incorporates a slight risk of small wax particles becoming lodged between your teeth and causing discomfort.

Swallowed a piece of dental floss? 

Although rare, there is a chance of accidentally swallowing a piece of floss, especially if it tears or if particles of floss become dislodged from your teeth later on. Generally, you should stay calm when this happens. The piece of dental floss will pass through your body naturally and be eliminated through bowel movements.

But take note: In theory, there is a possibility that a piece of dental floss could enter your windpipe and potentially reach the lungs. If you suddenly experience shortness of breath or persistent coughing, you should seek medical assistance immediately. At hospital, X-rays can be taken to determine whether the floss is responsible for the discomfort you are experiencing. If so, a doctor may need to employ a bronchoscope to extract the floss from your airway. 

Using dental floss correctly – how to do it

A long thread, wrapped awkwardly around your fingers, can often be a source of frustration and annoyance. Below you will find comprehensive instructions on proper flossing techniques to enhance comfort and achieve effective cleaning results. 

Step 1: Wash your hands  

Your hands should be clean when taking the dental floss out of the box. Considering the close proximity to your mouth, it is essential to maintain cleanliness throughout the flossing process. When flossing, prioritise thorough hand washing to prevent the spread of disease, both within your mouth and throughout your body. 

Step 2: Tear off dental floss – but not too short 

Now tear a sufficient amount of dental floss off the small roll. The rule of thumb here is: Better too long than too short. As previously mentioned, the ideal length is around 30 centimetres. 

Good to know: 

An adult human who still has all their teeth also has 30 interdental spaces. Quite a lot for such a small piece of dental floss. Therefore, use a fresh segment of your torn off piece of floss for each interdental space. This is the only way to avoid transferring dental plaque and food debris from one gap to the next. 

Step 3: Use the loop technique

For ease of use and efficiency while flossing, we recommend utilising the loop technique: Take the thread and create a loop large enough to accommodate four of your fingers. For a detailed demonstration of this technique, watch this video

Step 4: Clean each tooth individually

Now attend to each tooth individually and place the loop around it. If you are still lacking practice, start with one of your incisors. The brushing technique might be the best option for you here. Place the loop around the tooth – first on the right and then on the left. Now you can clean your interdental spaces with small up and down movements. 

Step 5: Do not forget your gums

The question on a lot of people's minds is: How deep can you go with dental floss in interdental spaces? Here, it is important to remember that you can and should pull the dental floss to below the gum line – carefully and gently, of course. This is crucial as various deposits can hide in that area, and they need to be removed to prevent the formation of tartar and dental decay. While it may cause slight discomfort, it should not result in bleeding.

If you experience pain, it is wise to seek specialist medical attention. 

Good to know: 

Flossing is not widely regarded as the most effective supplementary cleaning method in addition to toothbrushing. The best way to clean interdental spaces is with interdental brushes. They effectively access every nook and cranny between your teeth. However, if you do decide to floss your teeth, it may be wise to double the tape. This technique can enhance the cleaning efficacy while also improving your grip and manoeuvrability of the thread. 

Step 6: Rinse your mouth with water

Once you have thoroughly cleaned all the interdental spaces, rinse your mouth with water as a final measure. This will effectively flush out any food particles that might still be in your mouth after flossing. 

Alternatives to dental floss  

What can you use instead of dental floss? There are several ways to clean your interdental spaces every day. We will present the alternatives to dental floss below. 

Interdental brushes 

Not all tools for keeping interdental spaces clean are equally effective. The interdental brush is the clear winner. It reaches the smallest little nooks and crannies in the narrowest interdental spaces, enabling the removal of the majority of dental plaque and food debris. The aforesaid factors further highlight the advantages of the interdental brush as the preferred method of choice. 

Dental floss picks – thread with a handle

Dental floss picks belong to the dental floss family, as the name implies. The compact plastic or bamboo holders have a curved end that holds a piece of dental floss. The longer handle simplifies the flossing process, eliminating the complexity of manoeuvring a lengthy piece of thread with your hands. It is commonly observed that children tend to have better results with these picks compared to traditional dental floss.

But again, this method does have its drawbacks: For example, the thin threads cannot reach every corner of your interdental spaces. Their smooth surface readily "slips" past the intended targets. Furthermore, when using picks, the previously flexible thread in your hand transforms into a short, rigid and tightly stretched piece that restricts rotational movement. As a result, the cleaning of interdental spaces may become even less precise. 

Dental floss picks – how often should you change them?

Although dental floss picks are a little easier to use than threads, they provide only a limited length of thread for cleaning the gaps between your teeth. Consequently, it is necessary to frequently replace the dental floss picks to prevent the transfer of dental plaque and food debris from one interdental space to the next. That said, it is advisable to utilise multiple dental floss picks during a single brushing session to ensure thorough cleaning. 

Water flossers 

Water flossers are gentler on your teeth than dental floss. For instance, you may injure your gums when pulling thread too quickly and forcefully through tight contact points of your teeth. A water flosser, on the other hand, works with an often individually adjustable amount of water pressure that gently rinses your teeth. This ensures the more gentle removal of dental plaque and food debris.

Water flossers are particularly favoured by individuals with sensitive teeth, surpassing dental floss as their method of choice. Nevertheless, one drawback is that a water flosser often lacks the ability to effectively eliminate stubborn plaque. If, on the other hand, you use an interdental brush, you can effectively combat even the most persistent areas of plaque. These brushes apply gentle yet ample pressure to the inner surfaces of your teeth, ensuring effective cleaning. 

FAQs – dental floss

Flossing is not as easy as it seems at first glance. Consequently, patients often have numerous questions regarding this procedure. We have answered the most frequently asked ones for you below. 

Can I use dental floss with implants?

Implants require diligent care and cleaning equivalent to that of natural teeth. They are also susceptible to tartar build-up. Moreover, it is essential to remember that an implant typically interfaces with at least one side of a healthy natural tooth, necessitating protection against dental decay.

For individuals with implants, opting for a specialised dental floss, such as our DF 846 Implant-Saver, is recommended. 

How to use dental floss with retainers?

Retainers are thin wires bonded to the inner surface of the teeth. They are used after fixed braces treatment and are designed to stabilise the teeth and prevent further shifting. Removable retainers, resembling traditional removable braces, are also available. 

Even with a fixed retainer, it is crucial to attend to your interdental spaces daily. You can care for them as you would normally and utilise tools such as dental floss. The same applies here: Use dental floss correctly. Exercising a bit more caution is advisable to prevent any potential harm to yourself or damage to the retainer. You can also try a specialised floss threader to see if it helps. 

If in doubt, seek advice from your orthodontist or dentist. 

Can I use dental floss with braces?

With fixed braces, you will most probably encounter problems flossing. The wires make it difficult to access all the interdental spaces. In this case, it is better to use an interdental brush. Using the gentle brushes, you can easily clean your teeth even with fixed braces. They effectively navigate beneath the wires as well. 

Can dental floss remove tartar?

No. Tartar sticks to teeth like cement, thus requiring professional dental cleaning to effectively remove it. Under no circumstances should you do it yourself. Even dental floss will simply slip past the hard tartar. Flossing proves beneficial solely as a preventive measure. Since tartar always develops from plaque that has not been removed properly. So, always make sure to remove plaque from your teeth on a regular basis. The most effective way to do this is with interdental brushes. They even get into the smallest nooks and crannies of your interdental spaces. 

Can I use dental floss after a professional dental cleaning session?

Following a professional dental cleaning session, it is quite normal for your gums and teeth to be a bit more sensitive for a couple of days. Should this be the case, exercise caution when cleaning your interdental spaces.

If you have particles of food stuck in your teeth in the first few days that bother you a lot, we recommend using a thin interdental brush and gently attempting to remove the food. 

Can I pack dental floss in my hand luggage when flying?

Many people wonder whether dental floss can be taken on board a plane in your hand luggage. After all, the floss packaging typically features a small cutting edge designed for separating the thread. The answer is: Yes. This cutting surface is irrelevant and harmless. 

How do I dispose of dental floss?

Besides using dental floss correctly, you should also always dispose of it properly. Never forget: Conventional dental floss is generally not environmentally sustainable. Meaning, it is imperative to dispose of every thread, regardless of its size, in household waste.

The threads should never go down the drain or be flushed down the toilet, for instance. They can clog pipes. And this can be quite costly. Since the tapes or threads, predominantly composed of durable plastic, maintain their integrity and structure even after several years. Untangling such a knot is typically impossible without professional assistance. 

Can I straighten my hair with dental floss?

This can actually work! Just try out whether dental floss helps you combat frizzy hair. To do so, take about 20 centimetres of dental floss and stretch it directly over your hairline at the crown. Now pull the thread of floss tightly against your head in a downward motion. This should help to detangle and smooth out your hair, somewhat. However, for this to work properly, your hair needs to be dry. 



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All websites last accessed on 14 April 2023