Should You Be Flossing Before or After Brushing Your Teeth?

Flossing is an essential step in your dental hygiene, make sure you’re doing it right.

Flossing is an essential step in keeping your teeth clean and free of debris – but it’s a step that many people skip. 

In fact, it’s been shown that only 30% of adults 30 years and older floss their teeth daily.

Skipping your daily floss can result in a number of consequences such as tooth loss and gum disease. All of these things can be prevented by practicing proper oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing.

But to make the most out of your daily routine, you need to know how and when to floss your teeth for the best results. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about flossing – from whether you should floss before brushing or after to the different types of floss available. 

Here’s a quick look at the topics we’ll cover: 

  • The importance of flossing
  • The benefits of flossing your teeth
  • When you should be flossing your teeth
  • How often you should be flossing 
  • The proper steps to flossing your teeth
  • The different types of floss
  • Flossing with sensitive teeth and braces
  • The consequences of not flossing your teeth

The importance of flossing your teeth

While flossing may seem like an unnecessary task, it’s a crucial step in your oral hygiene.

If you’re brushing your teeth twice a day but skipping the extra step of flossing, you’re leaving your teeth and gums at risk. 

Throughout the day, food and debris get stuck in between your teeth. This debris needs to be removed from the space between your teeth, but a toothbrush can only reach the outer surfaces of your tooth. 

That’s where flossing comes in. 

Flossing your teeth daily will allow you to clear any food or plaque build-up that may start to form between your teeth. An oral hygiene routine that includes both brushing and flossing will help you avoid future dental and health concerns. 

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The benefits of flossing your teeth

Flossing your teeth on a daily basis will help keep your mouth in great shape.

The benefits outweigh the cons, from removing hard-to-reach plaque to preventing cavities and gum disease. Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits that come with flossing your teeth daily.

Remove plaque and avoid tartar

Flossing is the most effective way to remove plaque that builds up between your teeth. Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on your teeth throughout the day. 

If left on your teeth for too long, it can lead to cavities and gum disease. Because plaque can build up quickly due to the different foods and beverages we consume, it’s essential to clean it off your teeth daily.  

Brushing your teeth will remove the majority of the plaque on your teeth, but flossing is important to get to those hard-to-reach spaces between them. 

Flossing also helps to remove plaque before it can sit long enough to become tartar. Tartar is plaque along your gum lines that have hardened to your teeth, and it can cause irritation and may need to be addressed by your dental provider.

By flossing your teeth on a regular basis, you can protect your teeth and gums from excessive plaque and tartar build-up. 

Prevent cavities 

Skipping the flossing step puts your teeth at risk for cavities by allowing plaque to spread, and this can cause your teeth to begin to decay, which then results in a cavity. 

detailed diagram of a tooth and where you can get cavities
Generally, when you think about having a cavity, you think it affects the top portion of your tooth. But, without proper flossing and care, a cavity can quickly form on the sides of your teeth in those harder-to-reach areas. Regular flossing helps to eliminate this by cleaning the area of plaque and debris that can cause decay. Source:

Once a cavity has formed, it has to be addressed and filled by your dental provider. There’s no going back and trying to fix the problem on your own. 

But with the proper care and regular flossing, you can prevent cavities from forming in the first place. Cleaning the area between your teeth with floss will remove the plaque that is developing and help you avoid having a filling during your next dental appointment. 

Prevent gum disease

In addition to preventing cavities, flossing your teeth will also help you prevent gum diseases such as gingivitis or periodontitis. 

It again comes down to the proper removal of the plaque that is growing between your teeth and gums. Just as that plaque can cause your teeth to decay, it can do the same to deteriorate your gums and cause disease to begin to spread. 

When gum disease begins to take over, your gums will start to become discolored, recede, and have persistent pain. Once gum disease has reached a certain point, it is no longer reversible and will need medical attention. 

The best way to protect yourself from gum disease is prevention, which includes daily flossing. 

Improve your smile

Regular flossing will help keep your smile healthy for years to come. 

To keep your teeth in the best condition and keep your smile looking great, you’ll want to make sure to include flossing in your routine. Not only will it keep your teeth clean and fresh, but it will also help to keep your gums healthy and prevent potential infection or disease.  

By addressing plaque daily and preventing cavities and gum disease, your mouth will stay healthy and so will your smile. You won’t need to have cavities filled, teeth removed, or tartar build-up on your teeth that stand out. 

With the proper care, you can keep your smile clean and healthy for years to come. 

When you should be flossing your teeth

Many people are unsure of when they should be brushing their teeth as part of their regular oral hygiene routine. 

Should flossing happen before brushing or after brushing? Does it really matter what order I’m doing these steps? 

Yes, the order of how you clean your teeth does matter – and the proper order is to floss first and brush second. 

By flossing first, you’re removing any debris that may be stuck between the teeth prior to cleaning your mouth. Then brushing your teeth allows you to remove that debris and plaque as part of the cleaning process. 

It also makes it easier for your toothbrush and toothpaste to reach those harder-to-reach areas that were once filled with debris. 

When you follow the flossing step with brushing, you’re more likely to remove the debris from your mouth entirely. If you brush first and then floss, those fragments that came loose are more likely to stay in your mouth. 

So if you’re looking for the best way to keep your mouth clean and free of plaque, make sure to floss first and brush second. 

How often you should be flossing

You should be flossing at least once a day. That doesn’t mean you can’t floss more than once a day.

In fact, there’s no reason why you can’t floss several times a day. If you find that you look in the mirror and see the food you can’t quite reach or feel like you have a lot of plaque build-up throughout the day – go ahead and pull that floss out. 

Just make sure that if you’re flossing multiple times a day you’re doing it properly. Improper flossing can cause damage to your teeth due to too much pressure or flossing too forcefully and doing it more frequently will cause more harm than good. 

To make remembering to floss your teeth easier, start forming the habit of reaching for your floss when brushing your teeth in the morning or evening. Setting your dental floss near your toothbrush is a great way to remind yourself to floss each time you brush. 

The proper steps to flossing your teeth

If your current routine includes brushing before flossing, you might be wondering what else you can do to make the most out of your dental hygiene routine. 

Flossing isn’t a complicated process, but there are a few specific steps you should be taking to ensure you’re properly cleaning the area. 

diagrams showing how to floss
When it comes to flossing your teeth, there are a few specific steps you’ll want to follow. This will allow you to make sure you’re properly cleaning each tooth and removing any debris that may be lingering between them. Source:

Here are the five steps to flossing your teeth properly: 

  1. Grab about 18 inches of floss and wrap your middle finger on both hands
  2. Hold the floss between your thumbs and forefingers
  3. Slide it between your teeth and gently rub the floss between the teeth
  4. Curve it into a C shape against one tooth at a time and slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth
  5. Hold the floss against your tooth and gently rub the side of the tooth moving it away from your gums with up and down motions

You’ll want to repeat this process until you’ve cleaned the space between each of your teeth and the backside of your last tooth. Following this process will ensure that you’re taking the proper steps to clean every area of your teeth. 

Simply following this routine at least once a day will help set you up for success and keep your mouth healthy and clean. 

The different types of floss

Did you know there are different types of floss available to help fit your needs? 

From the material it’s made from to the coverage it will provide you between teeth, it’s important to use a piece of floss that helps you achieve the best cleaning. You may find that you need to try a few different options before you find the one that is right for your mouth. 

Here are a few of the different types of floss available

  • Unwaxed floss: a thin nylon floss made up of strands twisted together. This type of floss fits well into tight spaces and is good for people whose teeth are closer together, but it is more prone to breaking than its alternatives. 
  • Waxed floss: a thin nylon floss that has a coating of wax on it. The wax makes it a stronger alternative, but also makes it harder to fit into tight spaces between teeth. 
  • Dental tape: a broader, flatter floss option that can come both waxed or unwaxed depending on your preference. Dental tape is an excellent option for people with more space between their teeth. 
  • Polytetrafluoroethylene floss (PTFE): floss made out of high-tech Gore-Tex fabric. It’s a strong floss solution that easily slides between teeth for a complete cleaning. 
  • Super flosses: made from a yarn-like material and has sections that are stiff on each end, allowing for cleaning around braces and dental bridges. 
  • Floss picks: have small handles and a piece of floss stretched across it.
diagram of how to water floss
Water floss devices are an alternative option to traditional floss. They do the same thing and effectively clean out the area between your teeth, just without having to deal with the long, stringy floss. While they may be a more expensive solution to start, if it helps you add flossing into your routine, it’s well worth the upfront cost. Source:

This includes things like water flossing devices and pre-threaded floss. These alternatives make it easier to floss without the hassle of having to thread the string on your fingers.

If you find that you have a hard time committing to regular floss, trying one of these alternatives might make flossing easier for you. 

Unsure of what type of floss is best for your needs? Speaking with your dental provider can help you determine what type of floss or device is best for your individual needs. 

Flossing with sensitive teeth and braces

There are some cases when flossing seems like a difficult task. If you have sensitive gums, you may dread the discomfort that comes with flossing, or if you have braces, you may not know how to clean around them properly. 

The good news is, just because you may have a unique condition or situation, you can still floss – you just might have to adapt the way you’re doing it. 

The first step is to ensure you’re using the right types of floss for your needs, take into consideration the different materials we just discussed, and find the right one for you. 

Someone with sensitive gums should choose a piece of floss that is easy to glide between teeth and has a softer material. Whereas someone with braces might need a floss with stiff edges to ensure the area around the braces is adequately cleaned. 

The second thing you’ll want to consider, especially when facing sensitive gums or discomfort when you floss, is your technique. If you’re applying too much pressure or moving the floss through your teeth too vigorously, that could be the cause of your discomfort.

The consequences of not flossing your teeth

Knowing that the majority of adults choose not to floss, it’s important to talk about the consequences of that choice. 

Flossing isn’t something you can ignore and expect things to continue to remain the same. The longer you ignore the issue, the more plaque and bacteria will build up between your teeth, and this can result in some serious health conditions both in and out of your mouth.

There are a number of things that can go wrong in your mouth if you choose not to floss regularly, including things like:  

Gum disease

It might seem repetitive for us to keep bringing up the possibility of gum disease, but it’s a very real possibility for people who do not floss on a regular basis. 

diagram of a normal tooth and one with periodontitis
If you’re not actively cleaning the area between your teeth, you could be leaving it vulnerable to gum disease. Without flossing, things like plaque and tartar will build on the sides of your teeth and slowly start to cause damage to your gums and jawbone. Left long enough, this can cause irreversible damage.  Source:

When left untreated, gum disease can be very painful and cause you to lose teeth, experience jawbone deterioration, and cause infection in other areas of your body. 

The symptoms of gum disease include things like: 

  • Swollen gums
  • Sore or tender gums
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • Pus on the gums
  • Pain when chewing
  • Receding gum lines

To avoid having to experience any of these symptoms and treat the disease once it’s become a problem, regular flossing is essential. 

Tooth loss

Another consequence you may face if you choose to leave flossing out of your routine is tooth loss. 

Over time, the plaque that builds up on your teeth will cause them to start to decay. 

This may simply mean you need a cavity to fill the decaying area in the early stages. But the longer the teeth are left to decay, or the more areas of the tooth that start to decay, the only way to solve the problem may be to extract the tooth. 

Once a tooth has reached the point of no return, there is nothing more you can do to save the natural tooth. There are replacement options available such as implants, bridges, and dentures, but you’ll have to pay for all of these additional pieces of equipment. 

You only get one set of adult teeth, and if you don’t take care of them properly, you could very well lose those teeth to decay. 

Bad breath 

Choosing not to properly take care of your teeth by flossing and brushing on a regular basis can lead to bad breath. 

After you eat, food particles tend to get stuck in your teeth. If they’re not properly cleaned out with flossing and brushing, they can sit in between the teeth for an extended period of time. They will begin to stink and cause additional bacteria to build up in your mouth during that time.

This is an unpleasant side effect of not flossing your teeth and can cause others around you to feel uncomfortable. Flossing can help you avoid this embarrassing situation and keep your breath smelling fresh and clean. 

Other health conditions or diseases 

Anytime there are bacteria in your mouth, they can easily make their way into your body and affect other areas of your health. 

In fact, poor oral health can lead to other health conditions such as: 

  • Endocarditis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Pregnancy and birth complications
  • Pneumonia 

Think about it this way: when bacteria sits in your mouth, it can enter your body in many ways. Whether it enters through your lungs or bloodstream, it can cause significant damage to your overall health. 

So not only is flossing a good practice for your oral health, but it can also help keep you healthier across the board.

Flossing should be a standard process in your daily hygiene routine

While it might seem like an afterthought to many, flossing is a very important step in keeping your teeth and gums healthy. 

Brushing your teeth twice a day will only get you so far. Without flossing, you’re putting your oral and physical health at risk. You need to remove the plaque and food debris that get stuck between your teeth to avoid them causing tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. 

Start finding ways to remind yourself to floss at least once a day. Whether that’s by setting your floss out right next to your brush or setting a reminder on your phone each night – find a way to start building it into your routine. 

Once you start to floss regularly, you’ll feel and see the improvement in your mouth. Regular flossing can help you avoid unnecessary visits to the dentist and extend the life of your natural teeth. 

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