Should You Floss or Brush First
If you’ve ever asked your dentist about whether you should brush or floss first, you probably got some vague answer along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter—just make sure you do both everyday.”
The fact of the matter is that the dentists of the world have varying opinions about this. There is no recommended order that everyone should follow. But for the sake of this question, let’s look into the arguments for both sides…
The Argument for Brushing First
The main argument for brushing first is that after you brush there will be some lingering toothpaste on your teeth. When you floss, some of that toothpaste (and the fluoride in it) will end up in between your teeth. This will help to further clean the gaps between your teeth and provide some extra fluoride to those areas that wouldn’t normally receive it.
Another argument for brushing first is that it will remove the majority of plaque from your teeth, which will then make your flossing routine more effective—as you won’t have to deal with any of the big stuff and can focus solely on the small amount of plaque that is between your teeth.
The Argument for Flossing First
To understand this argument, let’s first look at what flossing actually does. Flossing not only removes the food debris from between the teeth, it also cleans under the gum line where plaque and food debris collect. When the floss removes this debris, it allows the toothbrush bristles to reach into the gum line more effectively than if you were to simply brush without flossing beforehand.
Another argument is that because flossing clears out the space in between your teeth, it will allow for better fluoride contact when you brush your teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste.
Dr. Edmond R. Hewlett, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, also argues that flossing is more unpleasant than brushing and therefore it is better to get it out of the way first. The rationale is that if you brush first, you are more likely to skip flossing afterward. Hewlett definitely has a point here—anything you can do to hold yourself accountable for flossing every day is a win, regardless of when it happens.
So which is ultimately better, flossing or brushing first?
The answer is… FLOSSING FIRST!
And why is flossing so important? Because it prevents cavities and improves gum health! It is important to make sure you are consistently brushing twice and flossing once every day to keep your mouth healthy and your dentist happy.
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not floss once per day or even anywhere close to it. A 2017 study by the American Dental Association found that 16 percent of participants flossed daily, and 44 percent admitted to exaggerating their flossing habits to their dentist! The study also uncovered some interesting revelations about what tools people are using to floss in a pinch… Results included fingernails, folder paper or cards, cutlery, safety pins, and strands of hair.
So, why is this such a problem? Well, it takes about 24 hours for plaque to form in the mouth, and a consistent oral hygiene routine—which includes brushing and flossing—will disrupt this build up. If you skimp on flossing, you are missing an opportunity to eliminate 40% of plaque from the surfaces of your teeth.
And while most people assume that the only purpose of flossing is to lower the risk of cavities, gum disease is an additional, even larger risk. Gum disease—caused by plaque buildup in between teeth and around the gums—can cause bad breath, bleeding or swollen gums, loose and sensitive teeth, and receding gums. If left unaddressed, it can lead to tooth loss. The simple truth is that brushing alone is not enough to prevent gum disease and cavities.
With that being said, here are some tips on how you can get the most out of your flossing routine:
- When flossing, make a full “C” shape around your tooth so that you are covering the entire surface of the tooth.
- String floss is more effective than dental picks, as it ensures contact on all surfaces between your teeth where many picks cannot reach.
- Waxed vs. unwaxed floss makes little to no difference in your overall dental health—just choose whatever works best for you.
- It is best to incorporate flossing into your daily oral hygiene routine so that it simply becomes second nature.
Written By: Dr. Nathan Brooks
Dr. Nathan Brooks, DDS, lives out his life-long dream as the owner of Anderson Dental Care in Cincinnati, Ohio. He leads a welcoming, family-focused clinic that offers comprehensive general and cosmetic dental care. With a Master’s in Biology from Purdue University and a Doctorate of Dental Surgery from Indiana University, he continues to pursue dentistry education to better serve and care for patients. On weekends, you’ll find Dr. Brooks, his wife, and their children adventuring outdoors or playing together indoors, depending on the season!