Is flossing necessary? 4 alternatives.

Medically Reviewed by a
Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. Issues With Flossing
  2. Alternatives to Flossing
  3. Keeps You Healthy
  4. References

You probably know that dentists recommend proper flossing at least once per day. This gets food particles out from between your teeth, which in theory lowers your risk of developing plaque or cavities.

But few people floss consistently. Some find it uncomfortable, and others just find it is easy to forget to floss. Some people think that if they get regular dental checkups and cleanings, there is no need to floss.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends cleaning between your teeth at least once per day, with some type of interdental cleaner. Traditionally, this means whipping out 18 inches or so of dental floss and thoroughly cleaning between your teeth, without hurting your gums.

Since few people enjoy flossing or manage to keep it in their dental hygiene routine, some companies have created new tools to clean between your teeth. These may be a good option for you if you simply hate flossing.

Issues with flossing highlight the importance of cleaning your teeth.

A 2016 investigative journalism piece published by the Associated Press (AP) reportedly found that there is not adequate proof that flossing is necessary. Information on flossing and dental hygiene gathered through the Freedom of Information Act from the United States Department of Health and Human Services and Agriculture (HHS) stated that there were no clear benefits of flossing in reducing plaque or tartar, preventing periodontal diseases, or helping to maintain overall good oral hygiene. There was only “weak evidence” that flossing was beneficial.

After the article was published, many people felt justified in irregular flossing or in never flossing at all. However, the ADA responded that proper flossing, or at least some form of thorough interdental cleaning, reduced the risk of several issues like:

  • Gingivitis.
  • Gum and periodontal disease.
  • Tooth decay from plaque/calculus buildup.

The AP article found that there was very little evidence in favor of flossing specifically. More importantly, the studies that said flossing once per day was the best option were funded by companies that make dental floss.

It is also possible to make some problems worse if you floss incorrectly. For example, you can hurt your gums, which can damage your teeth, roots, and sensitive dental work. If you have an underlying gum infection already, you could release these bacteria into other parts of your mouth or into your bloodstream, where they cause other illnesses.

A report published in 2011 found similar issues. The study reviewed 12 trials with more than 500 participants but found most of the results biased and not useful. The most concrete evidence showed that flossing and toothbrushing in combination, rather than toothbrushing alone, reduced gingivitis a small amount — typically after about one to three months. Studies did not examine results for much longer.

Still, cleaning between your teeth is important to reducing how much leftover food bacteria consume and use to create plaque or tartar. If you can’t stand flossing, you can ask your dentist about other options. There are alternatives that can effectively remove food between your teeth.

While dental floss may not be the ideal option for you, it is one of the most accessible, and it works well in conjunction with brushing your teeth regularly.

4 alternatives to flossing that still clean between your teeth.

Dentists now recommend cleaning between your teeth with several different appliances, which may work better than just using dental floss. In fact, one dentist reported that using small interdental brushes or a toothpick worked better than flossing, unless you have very little space between your teeth.

Here are some of the options for interdental cleaning that may work better for you than flossing:

Interdental Brushes

Although medical studies are also vague about the benefits of interdental brushes, some evidence suggests that they work better than dental floss. Most people have enough space to get the smaller sizes of interdental brushes between their teeth to remove debris.

These brushes are like smaller toothbrushes. One dentist with the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy stated that regular brushing gets only three to five surfaces of the teeth, and using an interdental brush removes food particles from additional surfaces that are hard to reach. Floss does not directly clean these surfaces, although it can remove some larger food particles.

Water Flosser

This device shoots a jet of high-pressure water into the areas between your teeth. It is more expensive than brushes or floss, but it may be more comfortable for people who do not have enough space between their teeth for even the smallest interdental brush.

Dentists suggest using a water flosser before brushing your teeth rather than after. This is so you do not remove fluoride in toothpaste, which is designed to strengthen your tooth enamel.

Brushing Two to Three Times Daily
People concerned about flossing, interdental brushes, or other appliances may benefit from simply brushing their teeth more often. If you brush your teeth in the morning and at night, this is a good amount, but brushing even more can help. Adding one more scrub after lunch, for example, can greatly improve your dental hygiene by removing more food particles before they get completely stuck between your teeth.
Professional Cleanings

If you already visit a dental hygienist on a regular schedule, you can ask about setting up more frequent cleanings. Some people are more genetically prone to developing tartar or calculus than others, so even thorough interdental cleanings may not be enough to slow this process.

Getting a professional to clean your teeth means you get plaque removed before it becomes a health problem. Medical studies show there is insufficient evidence to support or refute this claim, and this is the most expensive way to clean between your teeth. Even so, professional cleanings certainly remove some level of buildup.

If you are the type of person who struggles with plaque buildup, more frequent professional cleanings could be your best solution. Your dental hygienist will recommend that you pair this approach with a comprehensive oral hygiene routine.

Flossing keeps you healthy.

Dentists are clear that the most important thing about cleaning between your teeth is that you do it regularly.

You can floss either before or after you brush your teeth. If you don’t want to floss, you can scrub between your teeth with interdental brushes, use a water flosser before brushing your teeth, or use a toothpick if you do not have access to floss or other cleaning devices.

The key takeaway is to get between your teeth and remove any food particles there. This ensures your teeth can stay as clean as possible, reducing the amount of plaque buildup.

References.

Flossing. American Dental Association.

Should You Floss or Not? Study Says Benefits Unproven. (August 2016). BBC News.

Flossing for the Management of Periodontal Diseases and Dental Caries in Adults (Review). (2011). The Cochrane Collaborative.

Forget Flossing: Four Alternative Ways to Keep Your Teeth Healthy. (August 2016). The Guardian.

If You Hate Floss, It’s O.K. to Try These Alternatives. (September 2019). The New York Times.

An Easy Alternative to Traditional Flossing for People Who Aren’t Flossers. (May 2019). The Huffington Post.

Is Water Flossing Better Than String Flossing? (January 2020). Verywell Health.

Floss/Interdental Cleaners. (March 2019). American Dental Association.

Hate Flossing? The Alternative Ways to Clean Your Teeth. (September 2019). The Times.

Flossing or Alternative Interdental Aids? (March 2012). Journal of Dental Hygiene.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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