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Flossing and Children

Flossing teeth should start when your child has 2 teeth that touch. This is often around ages 2 to 3. Always floss under the direction of your child's dentist or primary care provider. Before this age, flossing is not needed. Children often need help with flossing until they are ages 10 to 11. 

The importance of flossing

Brushing teeth correctly and consistently helps remove most dental plaque. But brushing alone can't remove plaque that's in places that a toothbrush can't reach. This includes in between the teeth and under the gums. In addition to removing plaque, flossing also helps to:

  • Remove debris that sticks to teeth between the teeth and under the gums

  • Polish tooth surfaces

  • Control bad breath

Your child should floss at least once a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time to be most effective.

Types of dental floss

Regular, consistent flossing is the single most important weapon against plaque. It may be more important than the toothbrush. The different types of dental floss include:

  • Waxed and unwaxed

  • Flavored and unflavored

  • Wide and regular

  • Textured and smooth

Flossing methods

Your child's dentist or primary care provider can show you and your child how to floss. Methods include:

  • Spool method (also called the finger-wrap method)

    • Cut off a piece of floss about 18 to 20 inches long.

    • Lightly wrap each side of the piece of floss several times around each middle finger.

    • Next, carefully move the floss in between the teeth with your index fingers and thumbs in an up-and-down, not side-to-side, motion.

    • Bring the floss up and down, making sure to go below the gum line. Bend it to form a C on the side of each tooth.

  • Loop method (also called the circle method)

    • Cut off a piece of floss that is about 18 inches long.

    • Tie it securely in a circle.

    • Next, place all of the fingers, except the thumb, within the loop.

    • Then use your index fingers to guide the floss through the lower teeth. Use your thumbs to guide the floss through the upper teeth. 

    • Go below the gum line, bending it to form a C on the side of each tooth.

Other flossing methods

Flossing tools are also available, such as a pre-threaded flosser or floss holder. These may be helpful for people who are just learning how to floss. They may also help children with limited dexterity in their arms or hands. Or they may be helpful if you are flossing your child's teeth.

Oral irrigators or water flossers are not a substitute for brushing and flossing. These devices may help clean around braces where food sticks, or in areas a toothbrush can't reach. But they don't generally remove film and plaque on the teeth.

Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.