Do You Make These 10 Mistakes When You Floss?

Do You Make These 10 Mistakes When You Floss?

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Flossing Mistakes
©Prod-Akszyn/Shutterstock.com

It seems so simple to just slide some string between your teeth to clean those hard-to-reach areas.  While the idea is simple, there are a few techniques that you need to master in order to maximize the return on the time you spend flossing.

Here are ten common mistakes that people make when they floss:

10 Common Flossing Mistakes

1 – Not Flossing the Sides of Both Teeth

Flossing MistakesIf you just slide the floss down, and then pull it up, you are only getting 50% of the job done.  When you move the floss up between two teeth, you need to make sure that you are cleaning the side of both teeth.  One of the favorite places for plaque to hide is between teeth. If you’re only removing plaque from the side of one of the teeth, you could easily get a cavity on the tooth that you’re not flossing.

Find out about six common places where you are most likely to get cavities.

2 – Using the Same Section of Floss Between All of Your Teeth

When you floss you are removing bacteria from between your teeth and below the gum-line.  If you use the same section of floss for all of the teeth in your mouth, you are spreading around a lot of bacteria.  Of course you still are loosening the plaque, which has its benefits, but if you use a new section of floss each time you floss between two teeth, you will be loosening the plaque without putting plaque that you’ve already removed back in between your teeth.

3 – Snapping the Floss Down Hard Between Your Teeth

To get the floss to go between a tight contact between two adjacent teeth, try working the floss back and forth applying a firm but controlled downward pressure.

Snapping the floss down between the teeth can not only injure your gums in the short-term, but the trauma can cause your gums to recede.  Do it enough, and you’ll cause gum disease.

4 – Not Flossing Behind the Very Back Teeth

Even though there isn’t a tooth next to it, it is still important to clean behind the four teeth that are all the way in the back of your mouth (two teeth on each side in the upper and lower jaws.)  This can help remove bacteria that has made its way  between your tooth and gums.

5 – Flossing Aimlessly Without a Plan

When you floss, you need to have a road-map of what order you are going to floss your teeth in, or you can quickly become confused and miss some teeth or even a quadrant of your mouth.  It may be easiest to start in the upper right and go to the upper left, then come down to the lower teeth in the bottom left and move across to the bottom right.

However, as long as you have a plan, it really doesn’t matter which teeth you floss first.  Personally, I start right in the middle of my upper teeth and work my way back on one side and then on the other.  Then I do the same thing on the lower teeth.  Just find a “floss order” that works for you and stick to it so that you don’t forget to floss any teeth.

Dental Floss

6 – Not Flossing Around Dental Appliances

Many people don’t know that if they have fixed dental appliances in their mouth, they need to floss around them.  For example, if you have a bridge, it is necessary to use a floss threader, or get something similar to Oral-B Superfloss.

I had braces on my lower teeth when I was a teenager.  After I had them removed, the orthodontist cemented a wire that connects to each of my six lower front teeth.  This stabilizes them, but also makes it impossible to use conventional floss due to the wire.  Because of this, I have to use Superfloss or floss threaders to get under the wire so I can floss and maintain my gum health.

7 – Quitting When Your Gums Bleed

Blood may scare some people when they floss because they think that they are hurting their gums if they bleed.  You are not hurting them as long as you’re not flossing too hard (see mistake #3.)

Most likely, the reason they bleed is because they haven’t been flossed in a while and the gum tissue has become red and inflamed.  This is a condition known as gingivitis and it occurs because the body is sending more blood to the gum.  This is to help the tissue fight all of the plaque that is accumulating.  When you floss, you are removing that plaque, and since the tissue is inflamed and engorged with blood, you are causing some of the blood to leak out.  After a few days, your gums should return to health and you can floss normally without any bleeding.

8 – Not Spending Enough Time With Your Floss

Most people have 28 teeth if they’ve had their wisdom teeth extracted.  When you floss, you need to get both sides of the teeth (even the most posterior teeth – see mistake #4.)  That means that there are 56 sides that you need to get.  You should be spending a couple of seconds with each side, scraping up and down against the tooth a few times before moving onto the next surface.  That means that it will probably take you around two minutes to floss your entire mouth if you have a full set of teeth.

9 – Not Applying Pressure to the Tooth Surface

When you floss, you want to be careful to avoid using too much downward pressure so you don’t damage your gums.  However, when you are flossing against the side of a tooth, you want to make sure that you are pushing the floss against the tooth surface enough to be able to remove the plaque.

10 – Only Using Floss to Remove Food

Unfortunately, lots of people think that the only reason for flossing is to remove food that has gotten wedged between their teeth. I think many people end up doing this because they can see the food between their teeth — they can’t see the plaque.  An easy solution to this problem is to use a plaque disclosing tablet/solution to visualize the plaque on your teeth.

When you floss, your primary goal should be to scrape against each tooth to remove as much plaque as you can.  As long as you are doing this, you should be getting rid of the food between your teeth without even thinking about it.

Floss Correctly and Keep Your Teeth For Your Whole Life

By avoiding these ten common mistakes, you will be able floss more efficiently which will lead to greater oral health.  Since many cavities start out between two teeth, you will be able to prevent many cavities by regularly flossing and avoiding these ten flossing mistakes.

Do you have any questions or comments about flossing?  I’d love to hear them!  Just leave them below in the comments section.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for these flossing tips. You didn’t mention this in your article, but neglecting to floss can cause some very bad halitosis. Brushing and gargling mouthwash just don’t the job without also flossing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rachel! You make a good point. I had a professor last year who asked us if we would only wash 2/3 of our bodies with soap when we’re in the shower. He said that not flossing is like not cleaning 1/3 of your teeth. The bacteria just sit on your teeth and they don’t smell very good either!

  2. Believe it or not, but I first learned to floss when I was well in my twenties. Unfortunately, I come from a family where tooth decay was just viewed as an inevitable fact of life. I don’t think our household ever saw floss. As a native German, I can also attest to the -strange and inexplicable- observation that oral prevention appears to be much more advanced in the US than in Europe, where a lot of people still share my parents’ mindset. Their poor understanding and motivation for oral prevention is really the only gripe I have with the otherwise awesome upbringing of myself and my siblings. I’m now an avid flosser and should I ever have kids some day, I’ll make sure I’ll do a better job at educating them. Your site rocks, by the way! Thanks for dedicating so much time and effort to educate the rest of us!

    • Hi Daniel – I’m glad you’re taking the time to learn about how to take better care of your teeth. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. Also, thanks for your kind words – I’m definitely learning a lot more than I would otherwise, so it’s helping me out a lot as well!

  3. Thanks for the great post. I am nearing 21 years of age and just had my *first* cavity (first three). I did not floss at all, but now I am and your post was a great help to me. I dont like flossing, but its very important I never was any cavities ever again!

    • Thanks for your comment, Matt. Good luck taking care of y our teeth! My wife had her first cavity right after we got married – she’s a flosser now!

  4. I have also just started flossing. Sometimes the floss goes under the tooth and during flossing it can feel like my teeth are coming out! Is this normal?? Thanks for the guide :)

  5. So no wonder why my gums hurt. I went to the dentist today and the dentist snapped the floss when flossing my molars and it hurt so bad. I thought she was going to pull a tooth. Thank you for this.

  6. Hi Tom,
    I’m Natalia and I live in Michigan. My problem is this, in August 2012 I got a filling done on one of my front teeth. It’s September now and it’s painful to floss in between that tooth. The kind of pain I feel is like if I put an ice cube on it. Anyways after I gently pull the floss out it doesn’t hurt. I’ve never had this with my other 2 fillings. I went to my dentist and he couldn’t find anything wrong with the filling or my tooth. He suggested I try Colgate sensetive tooth paste but that was it. Btw my dentist also took x-rays and my tooth was fine. Can you think of anything that might be causing my tooth to hurt? Remember it only hurts when floss is rubbing up and down and around the tooth. Let me know what you think.

    Thanks
    Natalia

  7. Hi! Great article!
    I guess I don’t understand what snapping the floss means. Also, I floss every day and use an electric toothbrush and follow with Listerine. I have a tooth on my left side that kills when I floss down all the way as far as I can bring the floss. It has been hurting for a week, I thought it would lesson, but it hasn’t. I even try bringing the floss down and pulling it out, then letting the Listerine just sit on that side. It only hurts when I floss, not when I eat or anything. My last visit to the dentist everything was fine. (it was in June, so it wasn’t hurting then)

    The reason I’m asking you is because I’m not scheduled to go in for my appt until Dec, should I just make an appt, could it be a cavity or is it because of the way I’m flossing? The last thing I want is gum disease FROM flossing. Thank you.

  8. My significant other told me that he was told by a Dentist that flossing caused him
    To get a cavity in one of his front teeth. I have never heard that. Dentist stress how important it is to floss. Could that be some what true if so please explain.

  9. My significant other told me that he was told by a Dentist that flossing caused him
    To get a cavity in one of his front teeth. I have never heard that. Dentist stress how important it is to floss. Could that be some what true if so please explain.

  10. I have an amalgam filling between my first and second premolars, I started to floss between them two months after the filling, at first it was hard to get the floss section in between but now it is quite easy, why is that happening? am I having a new caries? given that when I had it filled, I had used to floss it every day.

  11. A few weeks ago i had both my 2nd molars removed because of large cavities, and i attribute that to lack of flossing. Basically it has scared me into flossing, however, i’ve found that i’ve done more damage now to my front teeth than what i had before from incorrect flossing, using a sawing motion. In saying all this i will not stop flossing but change my technique instead.

    The only thing i do question is why has my mother been blessed with amazingly perfect teeth, naturally straight, a nice natural white shade and no cavities? She uses an electric toothbrush, but has never flossed in her life.
    Are electric toothbrushes better?

  12. If I am flossing, and I do bleed a little, to avoid infection is there anything I should do?
    And do you think it’s me being heavy handed that is causing me to bleed?

    I feel like I am constantly putting too much pressure when flossing (I am very heavy handed) is there a strategy to avoid doing this? I know it’s silly but…

    I’m getting worried I may end up getting an infection or something.

  13. Hi. My name is Crystal. I haven’t been to the dentist in four years, but when I went before my insurance stopped, they told me to get my wisdom teeth taken out, or else it would cause decay. In fact, I think they were telling me that decay had already begun & that I needed to take my wisdom teeth out to stop the process. You would be surprised how almost perfect my smile is… but I went to the same dentist for years and hardly ever had a cavity, despite the fact that I rarely brushed my teeth. I usually only brushed my teeth when I was in the shower, which is either once a day, or if I’m lazy, once every other day! Heck, once in a blue moon, I might go three days! Yeah, I’m nasty, but I’ve never had problems with my teeth. I rarely get a cavity and was told to get my wisdom teeth out, before they started causing problems. My insurance ran out and I had my wisdom teeth removed one by one until all three of them were removed. I was worried that it was causing me problems not to have them removed quickly, but I was researching whether they should even be removed. I guess I don’t trust everything I’m told & that’s a good thing with the world we live in. Basically, I thought, why remove good teeth. Anyway, I had them removed, because I started thinking my breath was being affected by wisdom teeth, because my lower left tooth was impacted and trapped food. But, the upper right wisdom tooth came in the most, which is about half-way, but it felt strange when I brushed it. I waited until I did what I was told to do (which is remove my wisdom teeth) before I visited the dentist again. So, it was four years later, until I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed. When I went to the dentist, after this four year span, I went to a new dentist. I don’t have insurance, so I bought a Groupon online, in Orlando, FL for $40 for xrays, exam, and cleaning. They told me I had six cavities. I wonder if I really did have six cavities and whether they got me or not. I really figured I would have 5-6 cavities from not brushing and the dentist told me the wisdom teeth would infect other teeth. But I really wonder if I had 5-6 cavities, just simply because without insurance, wouldn’t the dentist make more money?!?! They don’t have to file insurance claims and get the full amount and not the bargained amount the insurance provider pays. Anyway, I hate to think I might have had cavities filled, that might have remineralized, but surely dentists would not suggest to fill a cavity that could remineralize. I have very good saliva flow, so that helps me not to get cavities. Dentists are a business and scare me just like any other business that is supposed to help you, but drag out the treatment to get more money. Once, I went to the E.R. and they knew what I needed to help me ($12 shot) but dragged out the treatment by offering unnecessary services such as x-rays and staying over-night which was unnecessary, but they were going to see how much money they could get out of me, before offering me what I really needed right before I was fixing to walk out the door and leave. Shame. But businesses are out to make money, and you have to watch your back!

  14. R insurance dropped our dental and at 53 with 5 children in collect I stopped going to dentist I floss daily brush three times daily but there r some sections of my gums that throb after flossing no bleeding though it also feels like the teeth in that area r loose I have pretty good teeth but there’s definanetly can tell difference not getting teeth cleaned twice a year but I rather make sure my kids go an they do I never used mouthwashes and the commercial s say they do so much do they work that well bcuz that could b option of affordability for me what do you think I just finished my night routine for teeth my gums throbbing I saw commercial for restoring mouthwash so I googled u what do you think dr

  15. hello, I was wondering how far below the gumline to floss. On the insides of my two front teeth, I’ve been experimenting with gently going up as far as I’m able. But just how far I’m able seems variable, and when I do this, it seems to irritate the gums and make them sore. I want to be thorough in my flossing but am not sure if this is going too far. How do I make sure I’m not causing harm but still going far enough to be effective?

    -a flosser with the best intentions.

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