What is a dental floss?

dental floss

Taking care of our teeth might seem like just another task in our daily routine, but it’s much more critical than that.

Dental hygiene is all about keeping our teeth and gums clean and healthy. When we brush our teeth, we remove food bits and yucky stuff that can cause bad breath and even cavities.

And did you know? Using dental floss can help reach those tricky spots between our teeth where the toothbrush might miss. Good dental habits not only give us a bright smile but also prevent painful problems in the future.

So, next time you think of skipping brushing or flossing, remember: a few minutes today can save you from bigger troubles tomorrow!

Dental Floss: A Key Pillar of Oral Health

While many of us are familiar with the trusty toothbrush, there’s another hero in the realm of oral care that often doesn’t get the limelight it deserves: dental floss.

This simple strand, designed to glide between our teeth, plays a pivotal role in maintaining the health of our mouth. It dives deep into those spaces that a brush can’t quite reach, removing trapped food particles and pesky plaque. Neglecting this step can lead to problems like cavities and gum diseases.

So, as foundational as brushing is, a comprehensive oral care routine isn’t complete without the invaluable support of dental floss. By embracing flossing, we ensure a holistic approach to our dental well-being.

The Origins of Dental Floss: A Journey Through Time

Dental floss, a seemingly modern innovation, has roots that trace much farther back in history than one might expect. Long before the invention of commercial dental floss, evidence suggests that ancient civilizations used various tools to clean between their teeth.

Historical records and archeological finds indicate that as early as the Prehistoric period, humans utilized thin twigs, horsehair, and even fish bones to remove food particles stuck between their teeth. These early methods highlight the timeless understanding of the importance of dental hygiene.

However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that dental floss began to resemble what we recognize today. Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans, is credited with introducing the idea of using a thin silk thread as a means to floss in 1815. He emphasized its importance in maintaining oral health and recommended that people use it daily.

The concept caught on, and by the late 1800s, companies started to produce packaged floss. In 1882, the Codman and Shurtleft Company from Randolph, Massachusetts, was among the first to market an unwaxed silk dental floss. Later, with the advent of World War II and the decline in the availability of silk, nylon replaced silk as the primary material for floss due to its durability and lower cost.

Today, dental floss is a staple in oral hygiene routines worldwide, with various materials, thicknesses, and flavors available to suit individual needs. Its historical journey from twigs to modern nylon threads underscores humanity’s enduring commitment to dental health.

From Twigs to Modern Threads: The Evolution of Dental Floss Materials

The journey of dental floss is a testament to humankind’s innovative spirit. Over the ages, as our understanding of oral hygiene deepened and our technological prowess expanded, the materials we’ve used for dental floss have undergone a significant transformation.

  1. Twigs and Sticks: Ancient civilizations, from the Mesopotamians to the native tribes of the Americas, were known to use frayed twigs or sticks to clean between their teeth. These rudimentary tools were essentially nature’s version of dental floss.
  2. Animal Sinews, Hair, and Bones: Some cultures, recognizing the need for a thinner, more flexible cleaning agent, turned to nature. Horsehair and other fine animal hairs were used, as were thin sinews or tendons. Fish bones, due to their slender and pointed nature, also found their place in early dental cleaning.
  3. Silk Threads: The 19th century marked a significant turn in the material story of dental floss. Dr. Levi Spear Parmly’s recommendation of silk threads in 1815 was a game-changer. Its smooth texture and durability made it an excellent material for reaching those tight spaces between teeth.
  4. Nylon: With the onset of World War II and the subsequent shortage of silk, nylon became the material of choice. Introduced in the 1940s, nylon had multiple advantages: it was robust, it could be produced in various thicknesses, and it wasn’t prone to fraying like silk. Moreover, its elasticity and resistance to microbial growth made it superior to its natural predecessor.
  5. Teflon (Polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE): In more recent years, some flosses have been made from Teflon. Its main advantage is that it slides easily between teeth, even in tight spaces, and is resistant to shredding.
  6. Bio-Plastics and Sustainable Materials: With growing environmental concerns, there’s been a surge in interest in biodegradable flosses. These are often made from sustainable materials like bamboo fibers or corn-based plastics, offering an eco-friendly alternative to traditional floss.

Over the centuries, the evolution of dental floss materials reflects our shifting needs, technological advancements, and environmental consciousness. From humble beginnings with twigs to modern, scientifically-designed threads, dental floss continues to be an essential tool in our oral hygiene arsenal, adapting to the times while always serving its primary purpose.

Types of Dental Floss

Waxed vs. Unwaxed

Waxed Dental Floss


  1. Easier to Use: The wax coating provides a smoother surface, allowing the floss to glide more effortlessly between tight teeth or crowded areas.
  2. Durability: The wax layer can give the floss added strength, preventing it from fraying or breaking easily during use.
  3. Flavor Options: Waxed floss often comes in various flavors, which some users find makes the flossing experience more pleasant.


  1. Thickness: The added wax can make the floss slightly thicker, which may be an issue for those with very tight gaps between their teeth.
  2. Feel: Some people don’t like the texture or the residue that waxed floss can sometimes leave behind.

Unwaxed Dental Floss:


  1. Precision: Without the wax coating, unwaxed floss is often thinner, allowing it to get into tighter spaces with ease.
  2. Feedback: Unwaxed floss can provide more tactile feedback, allowing users to feel the plaque being removed.
  3. Natural Feel: It offers a straightforward, uncoated experience without flavors or textures that might not be to everyone’s liking.


  1. Fraying: It can be more susceptible to fraying or breaking, especially if used with too much force or between teeth with sharp edges.
  2. Sliding Difficulty: Without the lubrication from the wax, it might be slightly harder to slide between closely set or overlapping teeth.

Whether one chooses waxed or unwaxed dental floss largely boils down to personal preference. Some prioritize the glide and durability of waxed floss, while others appreciate the precision and natural feel of unwaxed floss. It’s advisable to try both types to determine which one aligns best with your needs and comfort. Regardless of the choice, the most important thing is consistent flossing to maintain optimal oral health.

Teflon or PTFE Floss

Polytetrafluoroethylene, commonly known as Teflon or PTFE, is a synthetic polymer that has found its way into various industries due to its unique properties, one of which includes dental care in the form of dental floss. Here’s a closer look at Teflon or PTFE floss, its features, and its advantages and disadvantages.

Features of Teflon (PTFE) Floss:

  1. Smooth Texture: One of the standout properties of PTFE is its low friction, which gives Teflon floss a particularly smooth texture.
  2. High Chemical Resistance: PTFE is known for its resistance to chemicals, meaning it won’t break down easily when exposed to various substances in the mouth.
  3. Durable: PTFE floss is strong and less likely to shred or break during use compared to some other types of floss.

Advantages of Teflon (PTFE) Floss:

  1. Easy Gliding: Thanks to its smooth nature, Teflon floss slides effortlessly between the teeth, making it particularly useful for individuals with tight gaps or overlapping teeth.
  2. Shred Resistance: One common complaint with some floss materials is that they tend to shred, especially between tight teeth or around rough fillings. Teflon floss’s durability effectively addresses this issue.
  3. Comfort: Its gentle glide can be more comfortable for those with sensitive gums or tight teeth spacing, reducing the potential for gum irritation.

Drawbacks of Teflon (PTFE) Floss:

  1. Environmental Concerns: PTFE is a synthetic, non-biodegradable material. Given the increasing global emphasis on sustainability, some users prefer biodegradable options to reduce their ecological footprint.
  2. Less Tactile Feedback: Due to its slickness, some users feel they get less tactile feedback from Teflon floss, making it harder to determine whether all plaque has been removed.
  3. Cost: PTFE floss can sometimes be more expensive than traditional nylon or other types of floss.

Tape Floss

Features of Tape Floss:

  1. Wider and Flatter: Unlike string floss, which is round or cylindrical, tape floss is broad and flat, resembling a thin ribbon.
  2. Variability: Tape floss can come in both waxed and unwaxed versions, catering to different preferences.
  3. Sturdy Structure: Due to its design, tape floss typically offers a robust structure, reducing the chances of breaking or shredding.

Advantages of Tape Floss:

  1. Coverage: Its broader surface provides more substantial coverage when flossing, which can be especially beneficial for those with larger gaps between their teeth.
  2. Strength: The design of tape floss generally means it’s less prone to shredding or tearing, especially in comparison to some traditional flosses.
  3. Comfort: For those who find string floss cuts into their fingers or find it hard to grip, the wider design of tape floss can be more comfortable to hold and maneuver.
  4. Versatility: Suitable for a wide range of teeth spacing, from tight to broad gaps.

Drawbacks of Tape Floss:

  1. Size: For individuals with very tight spaces between teeth, tape floss might feel too thick or challenging to maneuver.
  2. Familiarity: Those accustomed to traditional string floss might require an adjustment period to get used to the feel and technique of using tape floss.

Flavored Vs Un-flavored Dental Floss

Flavored Dental Floss:


  1. Pleasant Experience: Flavors like mint or cinnamon can make the flossing experience more enjoyable, potentially encouraging more consistent use.
  2. Fresh Feeling: Many people feel that a minty or fruity floss leaves their mouth feeling fresher post-flossing.
  3. Appeal to Children: Flavored floss can be especially appealing to kids, making it easier for parents to instill good dental habits early on.


  1. Allergies or Sensitivities: Some individuals might be allergic or sensitive to the ingredients used for flavoring, causing irritation or other reactions.
  2. Overpowering Taste: Some people might find certain flavors too strong or unpleasant.
  3. Artificial Ingredients: Flavored flosses often contain artificial flavorings or sweeteners, which some users might want to avoid.

Unflavored Dental Floss:


  1. Simplicity: Those who prefer a no-frills approach to dental care might lean towards unflavored floss. It does the job without any added sensations.
  2. No Added Chemicals: For the purists or those wary of additional ingredients, unflavored floss offers a straightforward composition without flavoring agents.
  3. Consistency: The experience of using unflavored floss is predictable and doesn’t leave any lingering taste in the mouth.


  1. Perceived as Bland: Some users might find the absence of flavor boring or less motivating for regular flossing.
  2. No Extra Freshness: Unlike flavored variants, unflavored floss won’t leave any sense of freshness post-flossing.

Benefits of Regular Flossing

  1. Gum Health: Reducing the risk of gingivitis and periodontal disease.
  2. Cavity Prevention: How flossing can reduce the likelihood of cavities between teeth.
  3. Tartar Build-up: The role of floss in preventing tartar formation.
  4. Overall Oral Hygiene: Contribution to fresh breath and a cleaner mouth.
  5. Systemic Health Benefits: Connections between oral health and overall systemic health.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

“Flossing causes gaps between my teeth.”

It’s not uncommon to hear concerns about flossing potentially causing gaps between teeth. This notion might arise from misinterpretations or misinformation. Let’s examine the validity of this statement.

Understanding Dental Gaps:

  1. Natural Gaps: The spacing between teeth, known as diastema, can be natural. Factors like genetics, the size of teeth relative to the jawbone, or the growth pattern of teeth can all contribute to these natural gaps.
  2. External Causes: Gaps can also arise from external factors such as thumb-sucking during childhood, an oversized labial frenum (the tissue connecting the upper lip to the gums), or the prolonged use of a pacifier or bottle in early childhood.
  3. Tooth Movements: Teeth can shift due to various reasons such as gum disease, tooth loss leading to adjacent teeth moving into the empty space, or improper swallowing reflexes putting undue pressure on teeth.

Does Flossing Create Gaps?

The Short Answer: No, regular and proper flossing does not cause gaps between your teeth.

The Explanation:

  1. Flossing Removes Plaque: The primary purpose of flossing is to remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and below the gumline. By doing so, flossing actually helps prevent gum disease, which, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss and subsequently create gaps.
  2. Maintains Gum Health: Healthy gums snugly hold teeth in place. By preventing gum disease, flossing helps maintain the integrity of the gums, ensuring teeth remain securely positioned.
  3. Temporary Tightness: It’s worth noting that if someone starts flossing after a long period of neglect, they might feel a temporary sensation of tightness or slight movement. This is often due to inflammation reducing as the gums become healthier and not because the floss is creating gaps.

Why the Myth Persists:

  1. Misunderstanding Initial Sensations: As mentioned earlier, if someone starts flossing after a hiatus, they might misinterpret the temporary sensation or the visual appearance of cleaner teeth as increasing gaps.
  2. Improper Technique: Aggressive or incorrect flossing techniques might harm the gums, leading to receding gums or other issues, but not to gaps between the teeth. It’s crucial to floss gently and correctly.

“Bleeding means I should stop flossing.”

Experiencing bleeding when you floss? Don’t put that floss down just yet!

Fact: Occasional bleeding can be a sign of gum inflammation or gingivitis, often resulting from plaque buildup. Rather than indicating you should stop flossing, bleeding gums are often a sign that you should be flossing more regularly and effectively.


  1. Gentle Technique: Ensure you’re flossing gently, using a clean section of floss for each tooth, and avoiding any harsh sawing motions.
  2. Consistency is Key: Regular flossing can help reduce inflammation, and over time, the bleeding should decrease.
  3. Consult a Dentist: Persistent bleeding or discomfort should be discussed with a dental professional to rule out more serious conditions and get personalized advice.

Keep up with your oral hygiene routine and give your gums the care they deserve!

“I brush my teeth, so I don’t need to floss.”

Brushing your teeth is essential, but is it enough on its own?

Fact: While brushing cleans the surfaces of your teeth, it doesn’t reach the tight spaces between them or just below the gumline. Flossing complements brushing by targeting these hard-to-reach areas, ensuring complete oral hygiene.

Points to Consider:

  1. Hidden Nooks and Crannies: Even the best toothbrush can’t effectively clean between teeth or under the gumline. That’s where floss steps in!
  2. Plaque Buildup: Flossing removes plaque from between teeth, preventing gum disease, tooth decay, and cavities in these areas.
  3. Overall Oral Health: Flossing isn’t just about removing food particles; it’s about maintaining gum health, reducing bad breath, and preventing potential dental issues down the line.

Bottom Line: Think of brushing and flossing as a dynamic duo — both are essential for a truly clean mouth and optimal oral health. Don’t skip the floss!

Proper Flossing Technique

Length of floss required

The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests using about 18 inches (or approximately 45 centimeters) of dental floss for each flossing session.

Why So Much?:

  1. Clean Segment for Each Tooth: This length ensures that you can use a fresh section of floss for every tooth. Reusing the same portion can redistribute bacteria and food particles.
  2. Ease of Handling: A generous length allows you to wrap the floss around your fingers comfortably, ensuring you have a good grip and control as you navigate between each tooth.
  3. Avoid Fraying: Using a new segment for each tooth helps avoid excessive fraying or breaking of the floss.

Tips for Effective Flossing:

  1. Wrap It Up: Wind most of the floss around one of your middle fingers, and then wind the remaining floss around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger will collect the used floss.
  2. Gentle Motion: Glide the floss gently between the teeth in a zig-zag motion and be sure to go beneath the gumline. Avoid snapping the floss as this can damage your gums.
  3. C-Shaped Curve: Once the floss reaches the gumline, curve it into a ‘C’ shape against one tooth and slide it gently into the space between the gum and the tooth.

How to hold and manipulate the floss

Proper flossing technique is crucial not only for effective cleaning but also to prevent potential harm to your gums. Here’s a guide on how to hold and manipulate dental floss correctly:

1. Measure the Right Amount:

Start with about 18 inches (45 cm) of floss. This length allows you to use a fresh section for each tooth.

2. Wrapping the Floss:

  • Wrap Ends Around Middle Fingers: Wind the majority of the floss around the middle finger of one hand. Wind the remaining floss around the same finger on the opposite hand. This second finger will take up the used floss as you progress.
  • Guide With Index and Thumb: You should have about 1-2 inches of floss to work with between your hands. Use your thumbs and index fingers to guide the floss.

3. Begin Flossing:

  • Gentle Insertion: Slide the floss gently between two teeth. Avoid snapping the floss down, as this can injure the gums.
  • Zig-Zag Motion: Use a gentle zig-zag motion to guide the floss between your teeth. The motion helps it slide between tight spaces without snapping or getting stuck.

4. Adopt the C-Shape Technique:

  • Once the floss is between two teeth and reaches the gumline, curve it into a ‘C’ shape against the side of one tooth.
  • Slide the floss gently into the space between the gum and the tooth until you feel resistance (but never force it).
  • Holding the floss taut against the tooth, move the floss away from the gum with up and down motions to scrape off plaque and debris.
  • Repeat the ‘C’ shape process for the adjacent tooth.

5. Move to a New Section:

  • After flossing between two teeth, unwind a fresh section of floss from your middle finger and continue the process with the next pair of teeth.
  • Make sure to use a clean section of floss for each space to avoid transferring plaque and debris.

6. Flossing Behind the Back Teeth:

Don’t forget the backside of your last molar. Even though there isn’t a tooth next to it, it’s essential to clean the gumline behind this tooth.

7. Discard After Use:

Always use a new piece of floss for each session. Reusing floss can reintroduce bacteria into the mouth.

Tips for those with braces or dental work

Flossing with braces or other dental work can be challenging, but it’s crucial for maintaining optimal oral health. Here are some practical tips to help those with braces or dental work navigate the world of flossing:

1. Use Orthodontic Floss or Floss Threaders:

  • These tools are specifically designed for people with braces. A floss threader is a stiff, yet flexible, tool that helps guide the floss under the main wire of the braces.

2. Opt for Waxed Floss:

  • Waxed floss is smoother and less likely to catch or shred when moving between braces or other dental appliances.

3. Consider Using Interdental Brushes:

  • These tiny brushes can be used to clean between the braces and around wires. They help remove food particles and plaque in areas hard to reach with traditional floss.

4. Superfloss is Super Helpful:

  • Superfloss is a type of dental floss designed for cleaning around appliances like braces. It has three sections: a stiffened end for threading, a spongy segment for cleaning around an appliance, and a regular flossed segment for removing plaque between the teeth.

5. Practice the Right Technique:

  • After threading the floss under the wire using a floss threader or the stiffened end of superfloss, gently insert it between your teeth. Use an up-and-down motion, making sure to get under the gumline. Remember to be gentle to avoid causing any damage to the braces or injuring the gums.

6. Be Patient and Take Your Time:

  • Flossing with braces will undoubtedly take longer than without. Set aside a bit more time for your oral hygiene routine to ensure you’re cleaning effectively without rushing.


Oral hygiene is a cornerstone of overall health, and flossing plays an indispensable role in that. Whether you have a mouth full of natural teeth, braces, bridges, or other dental work, ensuring the spaces between teeth and around dental appliances are clean is paramount.

Braces and dental appliances, while beneficial, can create niches where food and plaque can accumulate. Neglecting these areas can lead to a plethora of dental issues, from cavities to gum disease. That’s why adapting and maintaining a comprehensive flossing routine, tailored to any dental work you might have, is vital.

In the end, the key lies in consistency, the right technique, and using appropriate tools. By prioritizing flossing and oral hygiene, you invest not only in your dental health but also in your confidence, ensuring a radiant smile for years to come.

Remember, every minute spent on proper dental care today can save you from potential complications in the future. So, embrace flossing as a non-negotiable part of your daily routine, and let your smile shine its brightest! 🦷✨

Hey there! Dr. Husam Alhurani (DDS) here! 👋

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