Gingivitis generally starts between the teeth, where your toothbrush is less effective at cleaning away bacteria. That's why daily flossing is important. Dental floss gets between your teeth and under your gum line to remove plaque that's out of reach of a toothbrush, even if you brush thoroughly.
If you don't remove plaque daily, it hardens into tartar, which requires a professional dental cleaning to remove [source: Mayo Clinic]. Left in place long enough, that tartar can grow deep under your gums and onto the roots of your teeth, where even a professional cleaning can't get to it. Then you'll have to endure a dental procedure called root planing and scaling, which involves sharp tools and sometimes placement of antibiotic fibers between your teeth and gums. The fibers have to be removed about a week later, so we're talking pain and at least two trips to the dentist [source: WebMD].
If that's just not your cup of tea, use these moves to get the best cleaning from your flossing routine:
- Start with about 18 inches (45.7 centimeters) of floss.
- Wrap the floss around your index fingers, leaving a long tail hanging down.
- Work the floss gently between teeth and up into the gum line to disrupt bacteria.
- Scrape the floss down sides of teeth, bending it slightly to curve into the front and back surfaces.
- Rewrap the floss around your fingers to a clean spot and repeat for all teeth.
- Work all the way around your upper and lower teeth and gums, including both sides of those very back teeth.
Don't leave the sink just yet! Keep reading for the next step.