What Happens When I Don't Floss My Teeth?

You know you’re supposed to do it every day, but how bad is it really if you skip flossing?

woman flossing at mirror

Medically reviewed in February 2022

Updated on June 14, 2022

A trip to the dentist isn’t complete without being scolded for not flossing every day. And even though you know you should, flossing doesn’t always make it into your nighttime routine—or many others’ routines, for that matter. Just about one-third of American adults floss daily, according to a study published in the Journal of Periodontology in 2018. Around two-thirds floss at least once weekly.

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,” says orthodontist and Sharecare Advisory Board member Dante Gonzales, DMD. "It continues to grow and release those acids that can cause tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease."

Flossing also keeps the gums from becoming inflamed. This 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 doing it enough, says Gonzales. And while flossing may seem like a bother, it takes less than five minutes a day—just be sure you're using the correct technique. 

“Wrap the floss around the tooth and drag the floss deep into the crevices around your teeth,” says Gonzales. Remember to make your way 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?
“There are basically two types of floss—waxed and non-waxed,” says Gonzales. “Studies show that there is no difference in the ability to remove plaque and prevent decay and gingivitis in the two.”

If you’re overwhelmed by all the different brand names and flavors, don’t be—any type of dental floss is fine. “The best floss is the floss that you like to use,” says Gonzales. 

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 wooden 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, either before or after you brush your teeth. “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.
Article sources open article sources

Fleming EB, Nguyen D, et al. Prevalence of daily flossing among adults by selected risk factors for periodontal disease-United States, 2011-2014. Journal of Periodontology. March 26, 2018. 89(8), 933–939. 
American Dental Association. Floss/Interdental Cleaners. September 21, 2021. Accessed June 14, 2022.
MouthHealthy.org. The ADA Seal of Acceptance. 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022.
MouthHealthy.org. Flossing. 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022.
MouthHealthy.org. Water Flossing. 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022.

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