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  • Writer's pictureChris Salierno, DDS

Why does it hurt when I floss?

First of all, I'm really glad you're flossing! Brushing your teeth is an important first step to keeping them clean but it can leave some plaque, tartar, and food debris in between your teeth and under your gums. So we use traditional string floss to get in between our teeth or an oral irrigation device like a WaterPik to get in between our teeth and under our gums.

So if flossing is a good thing then why does it hurt? Let's run through the possible explanations:

(1) You're flossing wrong

There are right ways and wrong ways to floss. Check out this flossing guide from the American Dental Association or this quick flossing video tutorial for some technique tips. Basically you should be curving the floss to make a "C" shape around one tooth and gently sliding up and down, then make a "C" shape around the other tooth and repeat. Hard snapping up and down or sawing the floss back and forth can actually hurt your gums!

(2) You're overdue for a professional cleaning

Even if you're a great brusher and flosser, you can still leave plaque, tartar, and food debris behind in hard to reach areas. When this stuff builds up it will lead to gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. Sings of gingivitis include pain and bleeding of the gums. Sometimes the tooth can even feel sensitive. If its been more than six months since your last dental visit, you may need to have a professional cleaning with your dentist or hygienist to start feeling better. Honestly, whenever you have unexplained pain you should see your dentist to figure out the problem!

(3) There's a problem with a tooth

The pain you're feeling may actually be coming from the tooth, not the gums. You may have a cavity or a damaged filling in the area your're flossing. Again, see your dentist!

(4) You've got something really wedged in there

Another possible scenario that I've seen in my practice is that a piece of food or tartar is really stuck in your gums, kind of like a splinter. You may not be able to see it with your eyes, but you may feel pressure or throbbing in the area and maybe some gum bleeding as well. When you go to floss it out you're actually moving the stuck object around, causing some pain. Your dental professionals can find the culprit and safely remove it.

I'm glad you're flossing, but flossing shouldn't hurt. If you're flossing for a few days and you're experiencing pain that won't go away, check with your dental team to find our what's going on.


Disclaimer: ToothQuest is for informational purposes only and is not to be taken as dental, medical, or legal advice.  Please consult with your dentist or other appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions that would affect your health.

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