Brushing and flossing

If you have a dental problem you should, in the first instance always telephone the dental practice that you normally attend.

If you are not registered with any dental practice then your nearest dental practice will still be able to help.

We all know how important flossing is, and yet we don't all include it as part of our oral health routine. Flossing is just as important as brushing and is one of the best ways to remove plaque from between your teeth.

According to National Smile Month one third of people have never used dental floss and less than a quarter of adults use dental floss regularly. Flossing should begin early in life and should be carried out daily. Dental floss when used correctly removes any left over food and plaque from the teeth preventing gum disease.

How to use dental floss

Dental floss comes in many different forms and product types. It's a thin thread, made of either plastic or nylon. Varieties include waxed, unwaxed and flavoured floss, normally mint. Along with traditional floss that is dispensed from a container in a length of your choosing you can also get floss picks. Floss picks have already got the floss threaded onto a u-shaped stick or plastic holder, taking some of the fiddly elements out of flossing. All of these types have their own unique benefits, ask your dentist or hygienist which is best for your needs and they will be able to advise.

How to use dental floss

Be thorough but gentle when using dental floss, make sure to reach the gumline but don't force it down too far or too severely as this can damage your gums. Always follow flossing advice given to you by your dentist, this includes how often you should use it. We have listed below all the information you need to start flossing correctly today.

  • Pull out a section of floss about 18 inches long, roughly the size of a long desk ruler. Take your middle finger on each hand and wrap the floss around them leaving a length of taut floss in the middle
  • Use your thumb and forefinger of each hand, leaving about 1-2 inches length in the middle, pull the length so it's tight and can be inserted in the gaps between your teeth
  • Without any force move the floss up and down against the sides of the teeth and under the gumline. Remember to be careful but thorough around the gumline
  • Using a fresh section of floss for each tooth to avoid moving plaque around the mouth, repeat the process of flossing on your next tooth until each tooth has been flossed
  • Don't forget the teeth at the back of your mouth, the exposed surfaces of these teeth should also be flossed

Bleeding gums when you floss

Your dentist should advise you that the first couple of times you floss your gums may bleed a little. This is because your gums may be tender and aren't used to such a thorough clean, now you are getting rid of any plaque build-up. Stick with the flossing and include it once a day in your oral health routine and the bleeding and sensitivity should subside, if it doesn't then you should seek advice from your dentist or hygienist.

If you are finding flossing too difficult or painful to continue with you should speak with your dentist about your available options. They may be able to recommend a more suitable floss or another way of cleaning between your teeth such as interdental brushes. Floss, in its many varieties, is available from supermarkets, pharmacies and even from your dentist.


Getting into a flossing routine is one of the best things you can do for your teeth in addition to brushing twice a day. Find out more about getting the best clean in our teeth cleaning guide.

Diet and lifestyle

Unhealthy eating habits such as excessive sugar in our diets, smoking or drinking can have a serious impact on our oral health.


Having a healthy and balanced diet can alter every aspect of our health, including our energy levels, our appearance our physical health and of course the health of our teeth.

The food and drink we eat everyday can seriously impact the health of our teeth, and if we eat too much of the wrong stuff, such as sugary foods and drinks it could lead to tooth decay.

A balanced diet should include lots of fruit and vegetables, along with starchy foods including bread, rice and potatoes. Try to consume these foods in wholegrain form and when eating potatoes try to leave the skin on. Your daily diet should also include sources of protein and low-fat dairy. 

Foods with high fat and high sugar content should be kept to a minimum and for the health of our teeth we should try to avoid snacking in between meals.

Sometimes cost can be a barrier to eating healthily – a range of help to support people with the cost of living is available from the Scottish Government.


When it comes to the health of our teeth sugars in our food and drink, are one of the biggest contributors to tooth decay, especially if we eat them between meals.

It's important to remember that sugars found naturally in whole fruit are not as likely to contribute to tooth decay because the sugar is stored in the structures of the fruit. However, once you blend or juice the fruit the sugars are released and can cause more damage to the teeth. This is also true for dried fruit which releases more sugar and sticks to the teeth thus leading to more tooth decay.

It's best to limit your intake of fruit juice to a small (150ml) portion per day, this is for juice and smoothies, and should be drunk at mealtimes. Try to stick to whole fresh fruit and eat them as part of your meal instead of using them as a between meal snack. This will all help towards preventing tooth decay.

Beware full sugar fizzy drinks and sugary snacks. Instead opt for sugar free diluting juice or water and for a snack why not try a cracker or some cottage cheese. Remember, even sugar free fizzy drinks can cause dental problems because of the acids added when they are manufactured.


Along with staining your teeth and fillings yellow, smoking can contribute to bad breath and may lead to gum disease. Smoking can cause mouth cancer, harms your oral health and general health in many different ways, find out more about smoking and get help to quit.


Due to the acidic content in some alcoholic drinks it can dissolve the surface of teeth, which eventually will become so eroded you can lose enamel, if this continues the only option will be to visit your dentist for a crown or veneer.

Drinking alcohol in excessive quantities can also lead to an increased risk of developing mouth cancer. This risk is amplified further when the effects of smoking and excessive drinking are combined. If you want to learn more about the harmful effects of drinking and how you can cut down head over to our dedicated alcohol page.

The dentist

Your dentist will examine your teeth and recommend how often you need to visit them for a check-up. The typical timeline for visits will be every six months but this can vary widely depending on your dental needs and oral health. Some people might need to see their dentist much more frequently and some not so often. In general your dentist will schedule check-ups every 6 months but it could be between every 3 months right up to every 2 years.

What to expect when you visit the dentist

When you visit the dentist it allows them to examine your mouth and teeth, identify any problems, advise you on preventing tooth decay and generally try to prevent any painful problems before they occur.

During a routine dental visit your dentist will provide a thorough examination of your mouth. They will ask you about your general health, if you're taking any medications, and if you have had any problems with your teeth or mouth since your last visit. They need all of this information to assess your current health, be aware of any problems and adapt any treatment needed around this.

It is normal for your dentist to carry out a scale and polish at your appointment, this is just a deep clean that will remove any calcified plaque. They should thoroughly explain all treatments to you and answer any questions you have.

Once the dentist has carried out any treatments you may need they should provide you with advice relating to cleaning your teeth, smoking, diet and alcohol. They will also discuss when you next need to visit them for a check-up.

Find out more about your dental check-up and dental treatments

Last updated:
12 January 2023

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