Worst Case Scenario … I Didn’t Floss

Worst Case Scenario … I Didn’t Floss

We all know we’re supposed to floss, but how bad is it really if we don’t?

A trip to the dentist isn’t complete without being scolded for not flossing every day. And even though you know you should, it doesn’t always make it into your nighttime routine, or many others, for that matter. According to the American Dental Association, only four out of 10 Americans floss daily, and 20% don’t floss at all.

We talked with orthodontist and Sharecare Advisory Board member Dante Gonzales, DMD, to learn why it’s important to floss, what happens if you don’t and how to make it a part of your daily routine.

Why floss?
Flossing removes food trapped between the teeth so it doesn’t turn into plaque, something that brushing can’t do alone. Plaque releases harmful acids that attack your tooth enamel.

“When we don’t floss, the plaque stays between the teeth and in the crevices around the teeth and continues to grow and release those acids that can cause tooth decay, cavities and gum disease,” says Dr. Gonzales.

In addition, flossing keeps the gums from becoming inflamed, which in turn, prevents gingivitis, an early form of gum disease.

How to floss
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to flossing is not flossing enough, says Gonzales. Flossing may seem like a pain, but it takes less than five minutes a day to do.

You can floss before or after you brush your teeth, but be sure you’re flossing correctly. “Wrap the floss around the tooth and drag the floss deep into the crevices around your teeth,” says Gonzales. Don’t forget to go from one side of your mouth to another, so you don’t miss areas.

If it’s painful, that means you’re not doing it consistently. The more you floss, the less painful and uncomfortable it will become.

What type of floss is right?
If you’re overwhelmed by all the options, don’t be -- any type of dental floss is fine. “The best floss is the floss that you like to use,” says Gonzales. “There are basically two types of floss -- waxed and non-waxed. Studies show that there is no difference in the ability to remove plaque and prevent decay and gingivitis in the two.”

If you’re not a fan of traditional dental floss, other types of flossing devices are available and approved by the American Dental Association, such as water flossers and between the teeth wood plaque removers.

“Flossing is still more effective than water flossing, although everything helps,” says Gonzales.

If you have braces or permanent retainers, you may need to use floss threaders to get underneath the contraption. Your dentist or orthodontist can show you how to use them.    

Set aside the time
The best time to floss is before bed, says Gonzales. “It’s always best to go to bed with the cleanest teeth possible,” he says. “When you sleep, your saliva glands aren’t as active, which leaves your mouth drier. The drier your mouth, the higher the bacterial levels, and the higher the bacterial levels, the higher the acid levels.”

Here are some tips that may help you remember to floss daily:   

  • Set your floss by your toothbrush
  • Set a reminder in your phone
  • Place a sticky note on your mirror

Follow the Worst Case Scenario series for answers to more health questions!

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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