Flossing Tips for Seniors & Older Adults

Why should I floss?

Flossing is a very important part of keeping your mouth healthy no matter the age, but it can be a challenge for older adults.

While the parts of the teeth you can see will benefit from natural, constant cleaning (and can easily be reached by a toothbrush), the spaces between your teeth are more difficult to reach.

This means food and bacteria can collect for long periods, causing gum irritation, swelling, and even bad breath. Continuous swelling can cause gum and bone loss, and create larger spaces for food to collect.

What is the proper technique for flossing?

  1. Wrap about 18 inches of floss around your two middle fingers.
  2. Tightly hold the dental floss with your thumbs and pointer finger and gently insert it between the teeth.
  3. Position the dental floss around the side of the tooth in a ‘C’ shape.
  4. Move the floss up and down against the sides of each tooth.
  5. Repeat on the next tooth with a fresh section of the floss until each tooth has been cleaned.

Flossing should be done once each day, either before or after brushing.

What can I do if flossing is difficult?

If you’re older, or have a disability that makes it difficult to floss, there are a number of flossing alternatives you can consider. These include:

  • Interdental brushes that that can fit between teeth.
  • Floss picks with handles that can make it easier to floss with just one hand.
  • Water flossers that direct water between the teeth in lieu of dental floss.
  • Floss threaders that can be helpful for flossing under fixed bridges.
Examples of flossing alternatives: interdental brush (disposable), floss picks (disposable), water flosser(disposable), interdental brushes (reusable), floss holder (reusable)

Interdental Brushes

Also called proxi brushes, an interdental brush is a small pointed brush attached to a handle that may allow you to clean between teeth when there is enough space. Using one is as easy as inserting the brush tip between the teeth.

Floss Picks

Floss picks are a device that that can hold floss on a handle, which can be short or long like a toothbrush. These tools can make it easier to maneuver the floss between teeth, and can be especially helpful if you’re receiving help with your flossing from a caregiver, or if you have a strong a gag reflex.

Water Flossers

Water flossers are a device that clean by flushing the gums with water, which is often easier to use than traditional floss.

Floss Threaders

Floss threaders are a flexible plastic or nylon loop that can be used to thread floss under fixed bridges. To use, thread the floss through loop, then insert the threader between the gum and the bridge, pulling the floss with it.

Also check out our “Alternatives to Flossing” article for more details about when flossing is a challenge.

About the Author

Sandie Nagel Beebe, RDH, PhD
Senior Lecturer Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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