On Floss, Flossing and Flossing Tools


When you go to the dentist and get your teeth cleaned, the hygienist might chastise you for not flossing. In the US most people are aware of what floss is, but in Europe I find that many don’t know what it is at all!

History of Floss

According to Wikipedia, floss was invented by a dentist in New Orleans in the 19th Century. Johnson & Johnson received the first patent for floss in 1898. The first floss was made of silk, then nylon floss made the scene. Floss can be waxed to help ease the floss between the teeth.

Why Floss?

So what is the point of flossing? Brushing does a nice job of getting plaque off teeth before it becomes calcified and becomes tartar (we call it calculus). But the bristles of a brush cannot reach between the teeth, particularly on back teeth which are much too broad for the bristles to get between. That’s where the floss comes in. Just place the floss between the teeth and you’ll at least start the process. Keep in mind that all you are doing is KNOCKING PLAQUE OFF TOOTH SURFACES! So you must wrap the floss around the contacts of the teeth (there are 2 tooth surfaces per spaced) and put pressure on each side. Simply continue until all of the spaces are cleaned.

Brush or Floss First?

Flossing should come before brushing. The rationale is that, if you’re using a toothpaste that has any helpful ingredients, like fluoride, the floss will have removed some of the plaque allowing the ingredient to actually reach the tooth surface, thereby benefiting the tooth.

What to Use if You have Trouble Flossing

Some people find flossing very difficult and need some help. There are flossing devices where you can hold a “fork” with floss on the opposite side from the handle and accomplish the goals of flossing better for them. That’s totally fine. Just make sure you are successful in knocking plaque off tooth surfaces. If you are unsure about some aspect this, your dental hygienist can review it with you. Additionally, in our office, we have a video that demonstrates how to floss.

A Note on Brushing

By the way, I’ve had 2 highly educated patients who asked me if you are supposed to brush the insides of their teeth. I looked at them to see if they were kidding me, but alas, they were dead serious. So, the brushing and flossing videos were played for their benefit. My lesson: don’t assume that my patients were well instructed in home care. Good home care and regular dental cleanings and checkups are key to avoid periodontal (gum) disease. And yes, complete dental care includes brushing the insides of your teeth.