The Different Types of Dental Floss

Flossing cleans away plaque that your toothbrush will miss, and is a very essential part of good oral health. In fact, if you only brush and do not floss, you're only really doing half the job.
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As a NYC Cosmetic Dentist, I get asked a lot about dental floss, and which type is the "best." I have a pretty standard answer for that question, and it goes like this: "Whatever type you will actually use daily." That's easily the most important aspect of floss -- whether or not it's actually used.

To begin, let's quickly go over that "what and why" of flossing: Flossing is running a piece of floss (which resembles thread or string) between your teeth. It cleans away plaque that your toothbrush will miss, and is a very essential part of good oral health. In fact, if you only brush and do not floss, you're only really doing half the job. So flossing daily is something everyone should do.

Ok, now we know you should be flossing. So you go to the store and look to buy some, and realize that hey, there are a lot of different "types." Which one should I buy? I'll go over that in a second, but I do want to preface this with an expanded explanation of my previous answer -- the best floss out there is floss that gets used. Floss does you no good sitting in the cabinet -- it actually has to be used, and in my opinion, there is no "better" type of floss. Using two different types of floss will not give you two different results. Now, two different types of floss may or may not be as comfortable as each other to use, or may or may not taste as good, etc. So THAT could be a determining factor in you using them. But again, any floss that gets used is good floss. This opinion of mine is shared by most other dentists and the ADA as well, which states "It's not what type of floss you use, but how and when you use it. If you have a preferred type of floss, you may be more likely to use it."

So that said, let's take a look at the different "types" of floss.

To start, there are generally two different types: multifilament floss (like nylon floss or silk floss), and monofilament floss (aka single filament), which are generally made of a type of rubber, plastic, or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).

Of these two, your nylon floss is going to be the most common. It's your standard dental floss, and has been around forever. If you buy generic dental floss, it's most certainly nylon-based floss. You'll also see a difference in price -- nylon floss is a lot cheaper. Nylon floss comes in all manner of thicknesses and flavors, and can be bought waxed or un-waxed (we'll go over all of that in a minute).

Your monofilament floss is newer technology, and since it isn't a fabric like nylon, it doesn't rip or tear. Since it's so strong, a lot of people think it's easier to use and pull between teeth. (The plastic/rubber also seems to glide easier for many -- in fact, many brands use the word "glide" in the floss name.)

Both types of floss come in flavors (of course, you can always get unflavored as well). I've seen all manner of mint flavors, cinnamon, bubblegum, etc. And I even ran across a bacon flavor online. (The link is not an endorsement of the product -- it's just there to show you that I am not kidding -- there's a bacon-flavored floss.)

In addition, both types of floss come in different thicknesses. This is important, because we are not all created equal in terms of spacing between our teeth. So which thickness should you use? I would say one to use the one that is most comfortable for you. If it goes easily between your teeth, that's the right thickness for you. (Just a note: You really shouldn't have to "snap" the floss hard between your teeth. If you do, ask your dentist about it.)

Let's talk about waxed floss (and un-waxed floss) now. When we're talking about these, we're discussing nylon floss. (Monofilament flosses don't need wax.) Wax is there to help the floss squeeze between your teeth, and indeed, some people simply like the feel of it better and feel that it's more comfortable. I don't see any clinical difference in which works better -- it's all a matter of preference. Again, waxed and un-waxed come in a variety of thicknesses (and flavors), so there are a ton of options available.

Now let's discuss "dental tape." Dental tape is basically a wide, flat ribbon of nylon (and it comes waxed or un-waxed). Essentially, many people find dental tape easier to get between their teeth than traditional floss (as it's thinner), so it makes for an ideal "starter floss" for many. Thus, dental tape and dental floss are generally in the same family, despite having different names.

As you can see by the preceding, there really isn't any right answer in terms of dental floss. It's largely a matter of your personal preference. Like I said earlier, the best floss is the one that gets used. And if that means you buying bacon flavor (or whatnot), hey, go for it.

Until next time, keep smiling.

For more by Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S., click here.

For more on dental health, click here.

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