Dental floss is either a bundle of thin nylon filaments or a plastic (teflon or polyethylene) ribbon used to remove food and dental plaque from teeth. The floss is gently inserted between the teeth and scraped along the teeth sides, especially close to the gums. Dental floss may be flavored or unflavored, and waxed or unwaxed.
Dental floss was still unavailable to the consumer until the Codman and Shurtleft company started producing human-usable unwaxed silk floss in 1882. In 1898, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation received the first patent for dental floss. Other early brands included Red Cross, Salter Sill Co. and Brunswick.
The adoption of floss was poor before World War II. It was around this time, however, that Dr. Charles C. Bass developed nylon floss. Nylon floss was found to be better than silk because of its greater abrasion resistance and elasticity. In response to environmental concerns, dental floss made from biodegradable materials is now available.
Dentists and dental hygienists urge the daily oral hygiene regimen of toothbrushing and flossing. Nearly all Americans brush their teeth. However, the ADA indicates that only about 12 percent of Americans floss daily, 39 percent floss less than daily, and 49 percent do not floss at all.
The dental floss is held between the fingers. It can be difficult to grasp floss due to the tension required to push between certain teeth, and reducing friction as the fingers and floss become wet from saliva. To keep a hold, the floss can be wrapped around both middle fingers, leaving around 5 inches of floss between fingers. This setup allows the pointer fingers and/or thumbs to pinch or guide the floss between the teeth with more control. Doing this on or above the first joint works best. Wrapping dental floss too tightly on the fingers as a tourniquet reduces circulation. So it is wise to loosen the wraparound when alternating to a fresh segment of floss. The floss should be guided between each tooth and under the gumline to remove plaque and bacteria. An alternative way to make the floss easier to handle is to make a loop and tie the ends together using a couple of knots. The resulting ring is easy to handle even in wet conditions and does not put as much tension on the skin as when wrapping it around the fingers. By rotating, a clean section of floss can be used to clean each tooth to avoid transmitting plaque bacteria from one tooth to another.
Specialized plastic wands, or floss picks, have been produced to hold the floss. These may be attached to or separate from a floss dispenser. While not pinching the finger, using a wand may be awkward and also make it difficult to floss at all the angles possible with a finger. At the same time, the enhanced reach can make flossing the back teeth easier, which are generally the more neglected teeth in dental care. These types of flossers may be missing the area under the gum line that needs to be flossed.
The floss is gently slid between the teeth. Dental floss is used to clear both particles of food stuck between teeth and dent-bacterial plaque adhered to such teeth surfaces. Ideally using a C-shape, when the floss is curved around a tooth and placed under the gumline, and then moved away from the gumline, the floss scrapes the side of each tooth, and can also clean the front or back of the tooth. Gently moving the floss from below the gumline to away from the gumline removes dento-bacterial plaque attached to teeth surfaces above and below the gumline. Be sure to floss each tooth surface with the floss.
Occasional flossing and/or improper flossing can typically lead to bleeding gums. The main cause of the bleeding is inflammation of the gingival tissue due to gingivitis.
Dental floss does not clean the interproximal areas beneath the contact point, because the area is concave.
This allows easier penetration under the gumline, with less force applied to push into the gap between teeth. With less force applied, more control of flossing is possible. In normal flossing, pressure may be applied until the floss 'pops' through the teeth, and the momentum can carry on and painfully impact the gum tissue. With more control, this can be reduced or avoided totally.
Many consider vibrations to be soothing; it is a common technique in massage and orthopedic devices. Much like electric toothbrushes are soothing to the teeth and gums, vibrating floss can sooth and massage the gumline.
Cuts become less likely as the floss will not press against as isolated an area, and less pressure is applied. Any abrasions to the gum would be more evenly distributed, leading to more equal adaptation of the tissue.