Do You Really Need to Floss? We Asked Dentists to Weigh In

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Alongside washing your face before bed and eating your greens, flossing is health advice that you know you're supposed to follow. In reality, though? It's not always happening (just me?).

"Everyone should floss at least once a day," says Timothy Chase, DMD, a New York-based cosmetic dentist and practicing partner of SmilesNY. Still, when it comes to this particular oral health commandment, I can probably count on one hand how many people I know who floss regularly—which completely goes against what all dentists recommend.

Do you actually need to floss daily

Yes, you do. The problem lies in your toothbrush, which reaches roughly 25 to 50 percent of your tooth surfaces, according to Dr. Chase. "Brushing alone doesn't go between the teeth or under the gum, where food particles get stuck," he says—and that's the area where most adult cavities form.

Each tooth has five surfaces, according to celebrity cosmetic dentist Bill Dorfman, DMD. "You can only clean three of them by brushing, so two-fifths aren't getting cleaned unless you floss," he explains. "That's not a passing grade in anyone's book." Sigh—and no one wants a failing grade in hygiene.

In short: If you don't floss, you leave food particles between the teeth and under the gums that can cause cavities, gum disease, and bad breath," Dr. Chase says.

What happens if you decide you don't need to floss

If you avoid the situation and stick to your toothbrush only, Dr. Chase says that you risk developing cavities, gingivitis, and eventually periodontitis—which is a severe gum infection that could destroy the bone that supports your teeth. And Dr. Dorfman adds that you can lose teeth.

"Biofilm (plaque) accumulates, gums become inflamed and bleed, and the oral health suffers. Any clinical dentist or hygienist is immediately able to detect a mouth that has been routinely flossed versus one that has not. And that plaque and those bleeding gums? They affect the teeth and the gums, but also the overall health of the individual being examined." says Katera Hopkins, DMD, at the University of Vermont Medical Center. "We do know that patients who participate actively in their oral homecare tend to have better periodontal health, and we also know that biofilm begins to accumulate on the surfaces of the teeth within 12 hours."

5 tips for effective daily flossing

  1. Don't be stingy with your floss. It may be tempting to stock up on floss sticks, but they may not be as effective, according to the experts. Instead, the Mayo Clinic recommends breaking off about 18 inches of dental floss. From there, you should wind the floss around the middle finger of each hand. Then, grip the floss between your thumbs and your forefingers, the Mayo Clinic says.
  2. Take it slow. While you might want to rush, it's the quickest way to have a bloody mouth. Instead, slowly guide the floss between each tooth with a rubbing motion until you reach your gum line—don't jam it. If you find that the floss gets stuck between your teeth, the Mayo Clinic suggests trying waxed floss.
  3. When you reach the gum line, make a c-shape. Curving your floss around one tooth once you reach the gum line and gently gliding it back and forth is the best way to get every nook in your mouth, according to the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry.
  4. Stay gentle. In addition to going slowly, Mayo Clinic says not to snap the floss into your gums, or else it'll cause more irritation.
  5. Stick with the habit. The key to effective flossing is doing it regularly. So even though it might feel like a chore, it's essential in the good fight for oral hygiene.

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