There’s a reason that dentists everywhere stress the importance of daily flossing for dental health. Not only does it help to remove plaque, but it also prevents cavities from forming and can reduce the change of gum irritation and gingivitis. “It is extremely important for your oral health to remove plaque bacteria on a daily basis,” says Kate Zoumboukos, DMD, a general dentist and owner of SW Austin Dental. “The plaque should be removed from all surfaces—especially between the teeth, or interdental area.”
But for those who experience tooth or gum pain (upwards of 12 percent of people, research suggests), sensitive gums can make flossing an uncomfortable—or even painful—experience. So, if you’re one of the millions of people who have sensitive gums, what can you do to make your flossing experience more comfortable? A gum-friendly floss, of course.
- Bridget Glazarov, DDS, general and cosmetic dentist
- Ellen Katz, DDS, dentist specializing in general, cosmetic, and restorative dentistry
- Robert Sachs, DDS, dentist with a 30+ year tenure at Sachs Family Dentistry, focused on cosmetic dentistry, crown and bridge, and endodontics, and Chief Clinical Officer of Freedom Technologies Group L.L.C.
Best floss for sensitive gums, at a glance:
- Best traditional floss: Oral-B Glide 6-Pack ($16)
- Best formulated floss: Cocofloss Dental Floss ($10)
- Best non-tear floss: Moon Clean Slide ($4)
- Best water flosser: Waterpik Cordless Advanced Water Flosser ($80)
- Best placker: Plackers Gentleslide 90-Pack ($3)
- Best electric toothbrush: Philips Sonicare 5100 ($90)
So, what types of floss should you be using if you have sensitive gums?
According to Dr. Zoumboukos, there are a number of tools that clean between the teeth that work well for sensitive gums. “Talking to your dentist about your options is very important to assess what type of interdental cleaner might be right for you based on your specific gingival needs,” she shares. That said, there are some tried-and-true gentler options your dentist might recommend.
“Waxed floss would be more beneficial and is gentler on the gums because it is smoother,” says Robert Sachs, DDS, president and owner at Sachs Family Dentistry & chief operating officer at Freedom Technologies Group. This coated floss (which is literally covered in a thin layer of wax) glides smoothly in between your teeth and therefore is less irritating on gums. “A water flosser is good to use in combination with waxed floss for cleaning and stimulation of the gums,” Dr. Sachs says. These devices use a stream of water to gently clean between your teeth and massage gums.
Flat floss opposed to twisted floss is also preferred. “In the case of flat vs. twisted floss, we recommend using a twisted string to get deep under the gum line,” explains Bridget Glazarov, DDS, a leading general and cosmetic dentist and co-owner of Maison BE Dental Studio. “[But] in the case of sensitive gums, a flat floss may be more gentle and cause less irritation in comparison to the twisted string.” And according to Dr. Glazarov, there’s also a third option: Tape floss—a wide, flat floss with a satin finish that is also less likely to irritate sensitive gums.
Are there certain types of floss that people with sensitive gums should steer clear of?
While many of the different floss options on the market are suitable for people with sensitive gums, experts say that there are a few choices that you should probably steer clear of. “People with sensitive gums should generally avoid using floss that is too harsh or abrasive,” says Ellen Katz, DDS, co-clinical director at the Full Mouth Rehabilitation Continuing Dental Education Program at NYU and co-owner of Maison BE Dental Studio.
“Unwaxed floss may be more likely to shred or break during use, which can be irritating to sensitive gums,” she explains. “[And] flavored floss may contain additional ingredients that can cause irritation for some people.” She also recommends against using brushes that has stiff bristles or fibers, as it can cause bleeding or discomfort, and floss picks that have pointed tips, as they can potentially cause irritation and injury in people with sensitive gums.
But it’s not just the type of floss that can cause discomfort in sensitive gums—the way that you floss your teeth can also contribute to sensitivity and pain. “A lot of times patients can be very aggressive with floss, causing more discomfort and sensitivity at the gum line,” Dr. Glazarov says, warning that improper flossing techniques often do more harm than good. “When flossing, it is important to gently wrap the circumference of the tooth and slide the floss down into pocket below the gum line to make sure it is free of debris.” Noted.
The best floss for people with sensitive gums
The truth is that everyone’s needs are different when it comes to dental products. “What is best for one person may not be best for another depending on their individual needs,” shares Dr. Glazarov. She emphasizes that if you do have sensitive gums, it’s important to schedule an exam with your dentist to discuss possible causes and recommendations.
Still, if you’re looking for new floss options, it never hurts to be proactive in doing your research. Below are dentists' top six floss options for sensitive gums. Happy flossing!
Best traditional floss
If you’ve ever purchased floss from a grocery store or pharmacy, you’re probably already familiar with Oral-B’s Glide line, which is something that both Dr. Sachs and Dr. Zoumboukos recommend. Oral-B’s Glide floss is a great option for people who have sensitive gums because it’s designed to easily slide between hard-to-reach crevices to floss away that pesky plaque—without the pain and discomfort that regular floss can sometimes cause. It’s available in single packs, but we recommend stocking up on a pack of four (so you’ll never forget to floss again!).
Best formulated floss
Cocofloss is a formulated floss that weaves microcrystalline wax and essential oils into a textured, but gentle, thread that helps whisk away sticky plaque and bacteria. “We love Cocofloss because it is waxed and filled with essential oils that helps it to glide underneath the gum line and remove plaque and bacteria without irritating the tissue,” share both Dr. Glazarov and Dr. Katz.
With that said, Dr. Sachs mentions that Cocofloss appears to be a little on the thicker side, so it might not necessarily be comfortable for everyone with sensitive gums—but as long as you’re flossing regularly, you might notice it becomes less uncomfortable over time. “It usually takes 2 weeks of consistent, proper flossing for gum sensitivity to go away,” he says.
Best non-tear floss
Another option that Dr. Glazarov mentions as a favorite at Maison BE Dental Studio is Moon’s Clean Slide Floss, which is a waxed option that is specifically formulated to prevent shredding. With a minty scent and flavor profile, this is a great option for those who prefer a mildly scented floss that’s still gentle enough for sensitive gums.
Best water flosser
Not only can flossing sometimes be uncomfortable, but for some people, the act of flossing itself can be difficult. “One of the difficulties with floss is that it can be hard to use if you have dexterity challenges or fixed oral appliances in your mouth,” explains Dr. Zoumboukos. “Options such as interdental brushes or water-based interdental cleaners might be great options for patients who dislike traditional floss.”
If you’re looking for a water-based flossing option, Dr. Zoumboukos recommends the brand Waterpik, which makes ADA-approved devices that safely and effectively works to floss away tough-to-reach plaque. By the way, even if you do choose to invest in a water flosser, Dr. Sachs still recommends using both flossing and a water pick in combination regularly for the best results.
Plackers are great for various reasons. For one, they make getting back molars and other hard-to-reach ares easier than traditional string floss. They’re also travel friendly and great in situations where you know you might need to pick out your teeth on-the-road or after a meal out.
Plackers makes a these sensitive-gum friendly pickers with a soft tape that’s easier on delicate gums. The high-performance floss is strong but gentle, designed to get in between tight teeth without breaking or cutting you up. Bonus points for the blast of mint flavoring that’ll freshens breath while you floss. Just note, these aren’t a very sustainable option as they are disposable and made from materials that don’t compost or break down over time. But they are affordable and a good solution if you struggle with string floss.
Best electric toothbrush
You might be surprised to see an electric toothbrush on the list of “best flossers”, but according to Dr. Sachs, there’s one line of toothbrushes that can be used in combination with flossing for great results: Philips’ Sonicare. “Using a Sonicare toothbrush will help with gum sensitivity,” he explains.
Sonicare electric toothbrushes are designed to use gentle pulses of water while brushing to effectively and gently remove bothersome plaque, even in the hardest to reach areas. Similar to the Waterpik, using this toothbrush—or any soft-bristled brush—in combination with regular flossing can help stimulate and heal sensitive gums, says Dr. Sachs.
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