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There are two kinds of people: flossers and those who should be flossing. That’s because using floss is an important part of keeping your teeth and gums healthy, along with brushing with fluoride toothpaste.
“A toothbrush removes plaque, but it mainly targets the front and back of teeth,” said Dr. Amr Moursi, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry president-elect and a professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. “Flossing removes plaque in between teeth and along the gum line that the toothbrush may not be able to reach.”
SKIP AHEAD Types of floss | When and how often to floss | Should kids floss?
Plaque is a collection of stuff you don’t want sticking to your teeth: bacteria, food and other materials, according to Moursi. If it’s not tended to, plaque can lead to issues like gingivitis (aka, early gum disease) and even bad breath. Flossing regularly and properly helps avoid these issues, according to Dr. Edmond Hewlett, professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry.
To get or keep you flossing, we talked to dentists about how to shop for floss — which comes in different flavors and varieties — and got tips for using it correctly. We also rounded up floss options with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, based on the experts’ guidance.
Best floss to purchase in 2022
Experts we spoke to recommended choosing floss with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. According to the ADA, “a company earns the ADA Seal for floss or other interdental cleaners by producing scientific evidence demonstrating the safety and efficacy of its product in reducing plaque and gingivitis.”
Beyond that, think about your teeth’s needs and which product you’ll find the easiest to use. The bottom line is that flossing demands consistentcy — the best product is the one you’re going to use, Hewlett said.
Below are floss and floss picks that earned the ADA Seal. All of the products below are designed to be single-use and disposable — the ADA does not recommend reusing floss or similar products.
You can buy this waxed floss unflavored or with a mint flavor. (Wax-coated floss can make it easier to slip between teeth.) It comes in a 55-yard spool.
Tom’s of Maine Naturally Waxed Antiplaque Flat Floss
Tom’s of Maine’s waxed flat floss — flat floss is wider and flatter than thread floss — is free from artificial preservatives, colors or flavors, according to the brand. It’s spearmint-flavored and comes in a 32-yard spool.
Quip Refillable Floss String
Quip’s floss comes in a reusable plastic or metal dispenser, with refill spools available online. (One spool lasts about three months, according to the brand.) The floss is marked every 18 inches to show you where to tear off a piece, and it expands with use so you can tell which part of the string is fresh while flossing.
Each dispenser of waxed Oral-B Pro-Health Floss has 54.7 yards of floss and is available unflavored or with a mint flavor. Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Comfort Plus Floss also earned the ADA Seal.
This 55-yard spool of dental floss from CVS Health has a mint flavor, according to the brand. Other varieties of CVS Health floss also earned the ADA Seal including EaseBetween Floss, Waxed Dental Floss, Unwaxed Dental Floss, Waxed Dental Tape and Mint Waxed Dental Tape (dental tape is similar to flat floss).
Quip Refillable Floss Pick
Quip’s Refillable Floss Pick comes with a plastic or metal dispensing case that holds the pick and mint floss. The case also has a mirror for on-the-go flossing. You can restring the pick with each use by pressing the “Q” button on its handle. One floss refill pod — which is recyclable and available to reorder online — replaces over 180 single-use plastic floss picks, according to Quip. The floss string also expands while you’re using it.
DenTek Floss Picks have mouthwash-flavored, fluoride-infused floss strands. The picks are also designed with a ridge that can be used as a tongue scraper. They come in packs of 75, 90 or 150. Other varieties of DenTek’s floss picks also received the ADA Seal, including Complete Clean, Fresh Clean and Comfort Clean Floss Picks.
According to DenTek, its kids’ floss picks are designed to fit kid-sized teeth and hands, and have fruit-flavored, fluoride-coated floss. They come in packs of 90.
Why should you floss?
“Floss removes plaque, that’s the bottom line,” said Moursi. Without regular care, plaque can build up; the longer it stays, the harder it is to remove. Eventually, plaque can turn into tartar, Moursi said. Tartar can only be removed through professional dental cleaning, according to the ADA — it can also lead to a host of issues including gingivitis.
Luckily, preventing plaque build-up is easy with regular brushing and flossing, experts said.
Types of floss and alternative options
Dental floss is regarded as the gold standard — it’s been around the longest compared to other plaque-removing products, Hewlett said. Moursi also added that most flossing research studies have been conducted with dental floss, so there’s a lot of data showing its effectiveness. But floss is not one-size-fits-all, he noted. Since using dental floss is difficult for some, there are other effective tools like interdental cleaners. Below, we broke down the differences among several different options.
When people think of dental floss, it’s usually the threaded variety that comes on a spool. But there’s also dental tape, which Hewlett described as a wider and flatter type of floss. He said it’s particularly useful for people with larger spaces between their teeth since it covers more surface area.
Both forms of floss come in unflavored or flavored varieties, but choosing a flavored option has no impact on how well it cleans your teeth, Hewlett said. Flosses also come waxed and unwaxed — while a wax coating can make floss pass between teeth more easily, Hewitt said, both waxed and unwaxed are equally effective when used properly.
Floss picks are similarly effective when compared to thread floss, experts said. The picks look like a wand and have a small piece of floss at the forked end, so you can grip the handle while using the tool. Experts said floss picks are generally easy to use, especially if you’re flossing a child’s teeth.
Water flossers are powered devices that shoot pressurized water at the spaces between teeth, targeting debris to disrupt and flush out plaque. While there is evidence to support their ability to remove plaque from teeth, Moursi said for water flossers to do their job, “you have to hold it in just the right place, at just the right angle and for just the right amount of time,” which can be challenging. Anyone can use water flossers, but experts said they’re the most beneficial for people who have difficulty using thread floss or floss threaders, as well as those with certain dental work like braces, bridges and crowns.
Dental work like braces, bridges and crowns can block floss from slipping between teeth, making flossing challenging. Interdental brushes — which look like little spoolie brushes — can pass through the spaces between teeth and under any dental work, allowing you to remove plaque.
The brushes have bristles on one end and a handle to grip on the other. To use, you point the brush at the gum line between teeth and push it through, moving the bristles around the space to remove plaque, said Hewlett. The brushes come in various shapes and sizes to fit the spaces between your teeth.
When and how often to floss
Experts recommended flossing — or using another plaque-removing tool — once a day. What time of day you floss is not crucial, but experts suggest flossing before bed. “The last thing that should touch your teeth before you go to bed should be a toothbrush and floss,” Hewlett said.
Cleaning teeth before bed has a couple of advantages. First, it allows you to remove any grime that builds up during the day. But also, when you’re sleeping, your salivary flow — the body’s natural anti-plaque agent — is at its lowest point, according to Moursi. “Our defense is at its lowest, so when plaque is sitting there overnight, that’s when it can have its greatest impact,” he said.
Moursi also noted that you can floss before or after you brush your teeth.
Should kids use floss?
Children’s gums are not as susceptible to plaque as adults’ are, said Moursi. There is usually enough space between kids’ teeth for toothbrush bristles to get in and clean the sides of their teeth. (It’s one reason that establishing a consistent tooth-brushing routine is the most important thing for young kids’ oral health, according to Moursi.) But as children’s teeth start having tight contact, that’s when flossing becomes more critical — usually around age 10, said Moursi.