Check here for alerts

Why should I use dental floss?

Dental floss helps to prevent gum disease by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance made of bacteria. If it builds up, the bacteria can irritate the gums and cause inflammation.

If your dentist advises you to clean between your teeth (interdental cleaning), they may recommend using dental floss.

How to use dental floss

Dental floss is a thin, soft thread made of nylon or plastic that removes food and plaque from between your teeth. Many people find dental tape, which is thicker than floss, easier to use.

If you use dental floss incorrectly, it can damage your gums. You should therefore follow your dentist's advice about using dental floss, including how often you should use it. The tips below may also help.

  1. Cut off a section of floss about 45cm (18 inches) long. Wind it around the middle fingers of each hand. 
  2. Grip the floss with your thumb and forefinger of each hand so that the floss between your hands is about 2.5-5cm (1-2 inches) long. Pull it tight so you can insert the floss in a gap between two teeth.
  3. Gently guide the floss up and down against the sides of the teeth and under the gumline. When the floss reaches the gumline, curve it into a C-shape against the tooth until you feel resistance.
  4. Hold the floss against the tooth and gently scrape the side over it, away from the gum. This will help you to floss under the gumline without causing any damage.
  5. Repeat this process for the next gap, along the side of the next tooth.
  6. Make sure you floss between every single tooth. Working to a pattern round the whole of your mouth makes it less likely that you'll miss out any teeth. 
  7. Remember to floss the side of the teeth at the back of your mouth.

What if my gums bleed?

When you first start flossing, your gums may be tender and bleed a little as you start to get rid of any plaque build-up. Carry on flossing your teeth and the bleeding should stop, as your gums become healthier.

If you're still getting regular bleeding after a few days, see your dentist. They can check if you're flossing correctly.

What if I find flossing difficult?

If you find holding the floss difficult, you could try using a floss holder (sometimes called a flosser) or an interdental brush. These hold the floss for you and some people find them helpful. Some people find interdental brushes easier to use than floss. You can buy flossers and interdental brushes from pharmacists (chemists) and supermarkets.

If you find flossing difficult, your dentist can give you advice about other ways of cleaning between your teeth.

For more information, see Why should I use interdental brushes?

Read the answers to more questions about dental health.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 27/01/2015

Next review due: 26/01/2017