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Which Type of Floss Is Best?

No matter how thoroughly you brush your teeth, it’s impossible to reach the plaque and food debris that lodge under the gum line between your teeth. Using dental floss every time you brush not only makes your teeth cleaner, it also stimulates gums, polishes tooth surfaces, prevents buildup of plaque, and reduces gum bleeding. And flossing can help you prevent gum disease.

How many people heed the message that flossing is important for good dental health? Not enough, according to a 2008 survey sponsored by the American Dental Association. Only half of American adults claim to floss at least once a day, and one in 10 say they never floss.

Flossing is simple, and synthetic fibers make it easier to floss between closely spaced teeth. Flavored flosses make the experience tastier, too. In addition, a variety of other products are available to help clean between teeth and under the gum line. Your dentist or hygienist can advise you on which one is right for you.

Types of Dental Floss and Cleaning Devices




Unwaxed floss

Thin nylon yarn composed of 35 strands twisted together for strength

Can be inserted between closely spaced teeth, but more likely to break or fray than the waxed variety.

Waxed floss

Basic dental floss coated with a light layer of wax

More resistant to breaking than unwaxed floss. Wax may make it harder to use in tight spaces.

Polytetrafluoro-ethylene floss

Floss made from the same synthetic fiber used for high-tech rain gear (Gore-Tex). One brand is Glide.

Useful for cleaning around gums and between closely spaced teeth.

Dental tape (waxed or unwaxed)

Broader and flatter than traditional floss

More effective than traditional floss for cleaning between teeth that are not tightly spaced.

Super Floss

Yarnlike fabric with stiffer portions on either end

Stiff ends can be guided through dental work such as implants, braces, or bridges. Individual threads include unwaxed portions for normal flossing.

Floss threader

Needle-type device through which floss is threaded.

“Needle” allows floss to be pushed through spaces in dental work. Similar to Super Floss.

Floss holder

Y-shaped plastic tool that holds a length of floss between two prongs.

Can make flossing easier for people who have trouble manipulating the floss or fitting their fingers into their mouth.


Common pointed cleaning tool made from wood, plastic, or metal

Useful for cleaning around gums and between teeth. Use toothpicks made out of a material, such as wood, that is softer than the tooth. Moisten before using. Take care not to press too hard on gums.

Toothpick holder

Device to hold a toothpick at the correct angle for cleaning.

Useful for cleaning gum line, gingival pockets, concave tooth surfaces, exposed roots, and areas around fixed bridges. Can be used to apply medications to gum areas.

Tip stimulator

Cone-shaped rubber nub found at the end of many toothbrushes or mounted on a handle of its own

Useful for massaging gums, freeing trapped food, and dislodging plaque.

Wedge stimulator

Triangular plastic or wooden tool

Especially useful for removing plaque and reducing inflammation in areas where the gum tissue between the teeth is missing. Moisten wooden stimulators before use and discard when the wood starts to splinter.

Interproximal brushes and swabs

Small spiral brushes or swabs that are pushed in and out of gaps between widely separated teeth or around braces or prosthetic devices

Brush should be slightly larger than the space being cleaned. Brushes with special plastic-coated stems are available to avoid scratching implant abutments.

End-tufted brushes

Plastic handle with toothbrush-type bristles on either end.

Useful for cleaning hard-to-reach areas on the gum line such as the margins of crowns and the insides of the lower back teeth. Used with a paintbrush-style motion.

Irrigation devices

Motorized units that send a steady or pulsating stream of water or mouth rinse through a detachable nozzle to a targeted area of the mouth.

Good for flushing out accumulated debris from braces, bridges and other restorations, and deep gum pockets. However, irrigation does not completely remove plaque.


Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.


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