Are you supposed to brush or floss first? Floss first, and brush second.
According to experts and researchers, flossing first removes plaque more effectively and allows beneficial toothpaste minerals (like fluoride or the less-toxic hydroxyapatite) to get in between teeth.
You often hear “brushing and flossing”. But to be more accurate, we should really start saying “flossing and brushing”.
Read below, and learn more about the science behind brushing first, the benefits of flossing in general, and how to pick the best floss.
Should I floss before or after brushing?
You floss before you brush. Here is why flossing first is better than brushing first:
- Flossing first allows minerals in your toothpaste to settle in between the teeth.
- Flossing second can squeak away some of the minerals with which your toothpaste just coated your tooth surfaces.
- Flossing then brushing leads to less dental plaque.
Flossing First Prevents Swallowing Plaque
Flossing before brushing may also reduce the amount of plaque you swallow.
Although researchers have not studied the long-term effects of swallowing dental plaque, any harmful bacteria is probably destroyed by stomach acids.
However, recent research implies a connection between swallowed saliva and some harmful oral bacteria reaching the gut and potentially altering your gut microbiome.
Benefits of Flossing
Flossing is paramount to your dental health, obviously. But exactly how does flossing benefit you?
Here are the specific benefits of flossing:
- Fights tooth decay
- Prevents gum disease
- Promotes a healthy oral microbiome
- Fights bad breath
- Prevents tartar buildup
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Reduces risk of respiratory disease
- Helps control diabetes
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends you floss regularly. Let’s dig into the science of how taking care of your teeth with dental floss is beneficial.
1. Fights Tooth Decay
Removing plaque and food debris is the primary use of dental floss. Getting rid of dental plaque and food particles helps prevent tooth decay.
Tooth decay is often used synonymously with dental caries and cavities.
Because flossing removes significantly more plaque than tooth brushing alone, using dental floss should prevent tooth decay and cavities.
2. Prevents Gum Disease
Flossing reduces overall plaque, including plaque at your gum line.
Plaque that infiltrates your gum line can lead to gum disease, and eventually even heart disease.
Without flossing as part of your daily oral hygiene routine, gingivitis is likely to occur.
3. Promotes a Healthy Oral Microbiome
When you floss, you get rid of harmful bacteria, allowing the good bacteria in your mouth to thrive. These beneficial bacteria make up your oral microbiome.
Antibacterial mouthwashes and toothpastes can harm your oral microbiome by killing good bacteria with the bad, but most dental floss is not antibacterial. Flossing may be safer for your oral microbiome than antibacterial mouthwashes or toothpastes.
A healthy oral microbiome is linked to heart health, lung health, joint health, pregnancy health, and cancer prevention.
4. Fights Bad Breath
Flossing fights bad breath.
The explanation is simple: lingering dental plaque and food particles contribute to a bad taste in your mouth, and bad breath, too. Flossing reduces dental plaque and food particles. Therefore, flossing fights bad breath — as well as that bad taste in your mouth.
5. Prevents Tartar Buildup
Flossing gets rid of dental plaque in between teeth. If plaque is not removed, it will likely harden into tartar, which you cannot clean without a professional dentist.
Tartar (also called “calculus”) is essentially hardened plaque. Tartar causes discoloration and makes it harder to remove new plaque.
Flossing helps prevent tartar formation and many people step-up their game with dental picks — for all day protection.
6. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
A lot of research reveals that flossing may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure or heart failure.
Not flossing seems to lead to increased bacteria in your bloodstream, likely through your gums. This is likely the main reason that flossing reduces our risk of heart disease.
Multiple studies confirm that dental health is connected to heart health.
7. Reduces Risk of Respiratory Disease
Flossing may reduce your risk of respiratory disease, such as pneumonia and COPD.
Pneumonia is an infection of the respiratory system, with multiple causes. One common cause of pneumonia is bacterial infection.
The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is breathing in harmful bacteria that live in your mouth. Flossing reduces bacterial plaque in your mouth, therefore reducing the bacteria you inadvertently breathe in that can trigger pneumonia.
Gum disease and poor oral hygiene are linked to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), a pervasive respiratory disease. Since flossing is important to your oral hygiene, flossing reduces risk of COPD.
8. Helps Control Diabetes
We have already talked about how flossing can prevent gum disease. But gum disease may lead to type 2 diabetes. So, flossing actually helps control diabetes.
Gum disease can raise your blood sugar level, according to a short 2013 paper published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
The Best Dental Care Routine (Plus, When to Use Mouthwash)
What is the proper order for brushing, flossing, and rinsing?
The best dental care routine is pretty simple to follow. Follow these six steps each morning when you wake up and before bed (but pick when you want to floss, since once a day is more than enough):
- Before brushing, floss in between every tooth, with an unwaxed dental floss. Beware, some flosses have fluoride on them, which may contribute to fluoride toxicity.
- Apply about a pea-sized glob of non-fluoride toothpaste to your soft-bristled toothbrush.
- BONUS: Research suggests that sonic toothbrushes are better than manual toothbrushes and that three-headed toothbrushes may work more efficiently than traditional toothbrushes.
- Brush your teeth at a 45° angle, in gentle circles, for about 2 minutes.
- Mouthwash after brushing or use a mouthwash rinse alone at a different part of the day, like lunch. To protect your oral microbiome, avoid alcohol-based or fluoride mouthwash. Keep in mind that fluoride or hydroxyapatite in your toothpaste may be rinsed away by a mouthwash routine, so a different time of day may be most ideal for mouthwash.
- Scrape your tongue with a high-quality tongue cleaner to avoid bad breath bacteria.
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How to Pick Good Floss
Picking the best dental floss is important to your daily oral hygiene routine. You want to pick a dental floss that is:
There are a few toxic ingredients that do not belong in your dental floss. However, as with many toxins, the US government allows companies to use quite a few toxic ingredients in their floss.
Here is a brief list of toxic ingredients to AVOID when picking a good floss:
- Petroleum byproducts
- Synthetic fragrance
Simply flossing protects your gums from gingivitis and the advanced stages of periodontal disease (AKA gum disease).
For those with sensitive gums, flossing can be a struggle at first. However, the results are worth it. After just a few weeks, you should notice sensitivity diminish as your gums become healthier. (Pro tip: If your gums hurt when flossing, try oil pulling after brushing your teeth for several days to reduce inflammation.)
Gum-friendly flossing technique:
- Do not prod at your gums more than once per tooth gap. Gently “prod” to get the plaque at the very top or bottom of the tooth.
- When sliding in between close teeth gaps, do not push so hard on the floss that it slides through then hits your gums.
- How many times a day should I floss? Only floss once a day. Flossing multiple times a day increases likelihood of gum damage.
Is it okay to floss twice a day? It is unnecessary for your oral health to floss more than once a day. However, if you need to get food debris out from between your teeth during the day, consider using a dental pick.
Should you choose waxed or unwaxed floss? We say that unwaxed floss is best, but let’s lay out the benefits of each.
Benefits of waxed floss:
- Slips in between teeth more easily
- Sturdier than unwaxed floss
Benefits of unwaxed floss:
- Thinner than waxed floss, reaches smaller gaps more easily
- Squeaks against teeth when plaque is gone, indicating when it is time to move on
- When the individual “fibers” of floss are waxed, they are bonded together and smooth. When unwaxed, these fibers are unbonded and clean plaque more effectively.
How to Floss with Various Tools
Since there are a few different types of floss, it is important to know how to use each specific type of floss.
There are three types of floss:
- Regular floss
- Water flosser
- Interdental brush
Each type of floss needs to be used slightly differently. Read on to find out how to use each.
1. Regular Floss
Dental floss is a thin cord of filaments people use to get rid of food particles and dental plaque from in between your teeth.
Though it is recommended that you floss daily, one-fifth of Americans never floss.
How to use regular dental floss:
- Wrap floss around your index fingers and thumbs.
- Slip the floss carefully between teeth. Wiggle gently until it slips in. A C-shape is usually best for this.
- Carefully slip the floss a millimeter into the gum line and wiggle the floss up the tooth.
- Rinse the floss off every two teeth to ensure you always have a clean stretch of floss.
2. Water Flosser
Water flossers are a popular floss alternative. Water flossers shoot a thin stream of pressurized water to remove plaque and particles from in between your teeth.
You probably recognize water flossers from dental offices, though many dentists use both dental floss and water flossers.
Water flossers are not supposed to replace brushing. Brushing your teeth is necessary to your oral health and performs a different function than floss by disorganizing the biofilm on your teeth.
Water flossers may be more effective than regular dental floss. Numerous studies indicate water flossing works better than regular flossing. Water flossers also reduce risk of damage to your gum line and may be beneficial for sensitive gums.
How to use water flossers:
- Fill the water flosser’s reservoir with water.
- Hold your mouth over a sink. You are going to allow the water to pour out of your mouth after it shoots against your teeth, and into the sink.
- Point the water flosser towards your gum line and in between your teeth.
- Water floss the front and rear of all your teeth, especially your back teeth.
Keep in mind that it’s easy for this process to get messy, so it’s probably best not to do it once you’re dressed and ready for your day.
3. Interdental Brush
A good interdental brush (also known as interproximal brushes or “in-betweeners”) utilizes small bristled heads designed to clean in between teeth.
How to use an interdental brush:
- Use an interdental brush to clean between all your teeth, once a day.
- Do not force the interdental brush in between your teeth. Insert gently.
- You may need more than one size interdental brush to reach between different sized gaps between your teeth.
- Stop using if your gums bleed for more than a few days after interdental brushing.
It’s time to see your dentist when…
It is time to see your dentist when you experience any of the following:
- Tooth pain
- Gum sensitivity
- Chronic dry mouth
- Tooth discoloration
You should visit a dental hygienist every six months for your biannual cleaning. There, your dentist can make sure your oral health is where it needs to be. If you experience the above symptoms, you should request an additional appointment to assess what’s happening and how to treat your issues.
Flossing every day (before brushing) is a great way to prevent extra visits to the dentist and uncomfortable dental procedures like root canals or tooth extraction.
If you are having trouble getting motivated to floss, click here to start your stress-free flossing journey and improve your oral health for good.
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