There are three types of oral hygiene people in this world: Those who floss religiously, just like their dentists taught them; those who only floss when there’s something noticeably stuck between their teeth; and those who never floss. If you’re in one of the latter two groups, well, it’s understandable — as simple of a task as it may be, for some reason the idea of flossing often feels far too tedious to bother with. Unfortunately, your dentist probably disagrees.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), flossing is an integral part of a healthy dental routine and may help fend off cavities, gum disease, and plaque. And Texas-based dentist Ana Paula Ferraz-Dougherty, who’s also an ADA spokesperson, says it should be at least once a day, in addition to brushing for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. “The idea…is that you’re removing the bacteria and plaque in between your teeth that a toothbrush cannot reach,” she says.
Okay, fine. So when should I floss?
As for exactly when in your day and your routine you should pick up the floss, you have a bit more flexibility. “How frequently and thoroughly you clean your mouth is more important than the specific sequence,” Joan Gluch, chief of University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Community Oral Health, tells Allure, suggesting you define your routine by personal preference and when you’ll be most likely to thoroughly clean your teeth.
It’s worth noting that dentists and other medical professionals may have their own preferences — for example, Jyoti Sonkar, an assistant clinical professor at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine tells Allure that some periodontists (who specialize in gum diseases, according to the ADA) prefer flossing first because doing so loosens up plaque that you can then brush away. On the other hand, “people tend to spend more time on the first job, which means that they are more likely to brush for the recommended two minutes if that’s the first thing they are doing,” she says.
But ultimately, Ferraz-Dougherty says, “all of the research leads to the fact that it doesn’t really matter when you brush your teeth or clean between them.” As long as you’re following the brush twice a day, floss once a day rule, “you’re going to get the benefit of brushing and cleaning between your teeth.”
What’s the best way to floss?
What does matter, though, is that you floss properly. “You can’t just put the floss through and go to the next tooth,” says [Alice Boghosian,] ADD LINK an ADA spokesperson, and a clinical instructor in restorative dentistry at The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. To make sure you’re actually removing plaque, Boghosian says you should place the floss between two teeth, curve it around the shape of one tooth, move it up and down (not, she says, forward and backward) a couple times, and then repeat around the other tooth. “Flossing really isn’t to get the food out from between your teeth,” she says. “Flossing is to remove the plaque from below the gum line that’s in between your teeth.”
Gluch says you can get the job done using traditional dental floss, as well as things like water flossers, dental picks, and interdental brushes. She recommends asking your dentist or dental hygienist which products they recommend “for the conditions in your mouth,” and request a lesson on how to use them properly. Even if it seems self-explanatory, a refresher certainly can’t hurt, especially if it will help you become one of those people who really does floss every day.