Hate Flossing?

Here’s how to clean your teeth according to experts

How to properly clean your teeth

You know the routine: You're at the dentist and the hygienist asks if you are flossing regularly. You say yes, or maybe “I try to,” while mentally vowing to be better in the future. The good news is you're not alone. Over 37% of Americans say they don't regularly floss and another 32% say they never floss, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The bad news is that you really need to be flossing. “Cleaning in between our teeth is one of the best things we can do to prevent cavities, bleeding, gum disease and infection,” says Dr. Ruchi Sahota of the American Dental Association. Every tooth has five surfaces and when we don't floss, we are immediately missing two of these surfaces. When done properly, flossing removes food particles that stick to teeth creating colonies of bacteria called plaque that promote inflammation and gum disease. Over time, plaque hardens into tarter, which wears away at gums and bone, eventually causing tooth loss.

But even dentists will admit that flossing can be a drag. “If guilt worked, you would already be flossing by now,” says Mark Burhenne, DDS, the author behind Ask the Dentist. He says finding what works for you is the key to making it a successful habit. The key is easing into it.

Dr. William Linger, a Charlotte-based dentist, says that if you're not used to flossing or feel like you don't have the time to struggle with every little tooth gap, it's okay—any flossing is better than none. “Rather than getting frustrated learning to use the flosser, consider only doing one half of your teeth at a time,” he says. “Floss the lower teeth at bedtime, then the upper teeth when you brush before breakfast and so on.” Ready to floss? Here's what the experts recommend.


Flossing Tools

Floss Picks

Some who find standard flossing tedious enjoy these ready-to-go flossers. Dr. Linger calls it a “no-commitment, incredibly inexpensive flossing starter tool.” A study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found that floss picks are “at least as good as” regular dental floss when it comes to removing plaque. You could also use reusable floss holders—essentially handles that you can string with standard floss. These minty flossers from GUM are among the most popular, but none of these tools have the American Dental Association's seal of acceptance.

Extra-strong flossers,
$4.80 (for 90 picks) by GUM

Toothpick Alternative

These tiny triangular wooden sticks gently remove plaque and gunk from teeth while maintaining the health of your gums. The soft wood is able to slip between teeth and gently massage the area at the base of each tooth. The process really feels like you're cleaning away debris and is great for those spots and spaces that constantly trap food. If wrapping string around your fingers and repositioning it is a drag—this simple back-and-forth motion with a stick feels a whole lot easier. Because they're designed to stimulate the gums, they're ADA-recognized and clinically proven to fight gingivitis.

Mint plaque remover,
$4.83 by Stim-U-Dent

Interdental Brushes

These slim brushes are often recommended by dentists and orthodontists to help clean in between teeth and hard-to-reach spaces. Unlike simple string floss, these tools have tiny bristles that spring out to engage and remove the plaque and other bad-breath-causing crud in the crevices in between the teeth. They're able to navigate around dental work and are also a lot more environmentally friendly.

Multiple size brush pack,
$8 by TePe


A water flosser is like a power washer for your teeth and gums. According to Dr. Linger, “these toothcare appliances use highly pressurized water to blast plaque out from between your teeth for a nearly hands-free flossing experience.” The cordless ability of this one allows you to minimize mess by doing it in the shower. It's also great for smaller bathrooms without much counter space and holds a battery charge for quite a while.

Cordless water flosser,
$79.99 / $69.97 by Waterpik

Combination Brush

This time saving two-in-one product allows you to brush and floss at the same time. It comes with a two-minute timer that paces out the four quadrants of your mouth to ensure you get everything squeaky clean. And there are multiple pressure settings so the process is anything but painful. It's approved by the ADA and clinically-proven to be twice as effective as traditional brushing and flossing because the sonic brush head thoroughly cleans the surfaces of the teeth, while the water flosser targets between the teeth and below the gumline where standard bristles can't reach.

Sonic-Fusion combination brush and flosser,
$199.99 / $154.36 by Waterpik


Dental floss wasn’t a widely used product until 1815, when Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans, invented a thin, waxen silk thread to help his patients clean between their teeth.

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