5 Reasons You Need to Floss (and Other Flossing Tips)

OK, everybody. Hands up if you like to floss your teeth. Anyone? What? Is there no one who enjoys flossing? It’s an essential part of oral care. Besides, we have some helpful flossing tips to share and some reasons why you should floss regularly.

But removing plaque and food particles between your teeth, flossing helps prevent cavities and tartar build-up (which can lead to cavities and other oral problems). It helps keep your gums healthy. Plus, it keeps your mouth from feeling disgusting.

Let’s start this discussion of flossing with a brief and revealing story of how dental floss came into existence. Then, we’ll move on to the basics of flossing.

Who Came up With the Idea of Dental Floss—and When?

Evidence exists of makeshift dental floss being used in the Ancient World. However, Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, a New Orleans dentist, gets credit for being the first to prescribe flossing to his patients way back in1815.

By 1900, the use of silk thread as dental floss was widespread in the U.S. and elsewhere. The first patent on the product went to Johnson & Johnson in 1898.

Despite competition from its rival company Oral-B and other dental product companies, J&J remains a significant player in the dental floss industry today. They have made several flossing innovations since being granted the patent.

What percentage of the population do you think were flossing in the 1800s? Or even the early years of the 1900s? We suspect it wasn’t many since formally trained and licensed dentists were rare until the early 20th Century.

The brief history of modern-day flossing is no excuse for skipping it today. We’ve learned a lot since the early days of dental floss!

So How Do I Floss the Right Way?

Flossing is remarkably simple, yet lots of people go about it in entirely the wrong way. We credit their effort, though. Some people neglect to floss altogether!

Here’s how to floss the right way:

  1. Begin by breaking off about 18 to 24 inches of dental floss. Hold the floss correctly by winding most of it around your middle fingers (leaving about one or two inches for sliding between your teeth).
  2. Then, tighten the floss with your thumbs and index fingers.
  3. Next, place the floss between two teeth and glide it gently up and down against both sides of each tooth, taking care not to touch the gums.
  4. Be sure to floss the part of your teeth that’s near the gums by curving it at the base of the tooth to form a C shape. 
  5. Repeat these steps going move from tooth to tooth. For each, use a new section of floss.

That’s all there is to it. So floss already! You need to do it at least twice a day.

Is Flossing Important?

Yes, flossing makes a big difference.

We’ll give you five flossing tips to help you do it well. Here are some things we heard from dentists and hygienists.

Five Flossing Tips From the Pros

  1. Follow the flossing procedure outlined above.
  2. Make flossing part of your daily oral hygiene routine, so you remember to do it every time you brush. If you’re not brushing every day, step up that routine too.
  3. Use traditional string floss. It makes flossing easier and more effective.
  4. If flossing is a challenge for you, try using floss picks instead. Many people find these more comfortable and convenient to use.
  5. Consider using a Waterpik in place of string floss. It works just as well as floss—even better for some.

We hope these suggestions make flossing seem like a piece of cake to you. And, by the way, if you eat that piece of cake, be sure to brush and floss afterward.

What if I Don’t Floss?

So tell us, what happens if you don’t floss? Well, if you don’t floss and do  it regularly, we see problems in your future. These are not easy problems to solve, either. 

Problems from lack of flossing can start with plaque and tartar build-up and progress to serious oral infections that can cause multiple complications—even some that affect other parts of the body.

Beyond the scary health risks, though, there’s your, um, personal life. Who in the world wants to kiss someone with yucky plaque through their mouth? And what young child would hesitate to say, “Daddy, you’ve got bad breath.”

Sad cases like these can follow into your professional life, too—except that no one will tell you about them. They’ll just keep their distance and talk about your “little problem” behind your back. People can be that way!

But Should You Floss at All?

Among other clinical studies, a 2015 review published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology also concluded that “the majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal.”

Not surprisingly, responses to announcements of these studies provoked a good deal of commentary, both within the dental and medical communities, as well as from the general public.

The finding of an extensive 2018 meta-analysis ombining results from 22 previous studies of flossing found no strong link between flossing and improved oral health than brushing alone.

In August 2016, a New York Times health reporter suggested that “maybe the evidence that flossing reduces tooth decay or gum disease does not hold up because we are all such poor flossers.

Perhaps, too, the idea of not flossing prompted many to start flossing regularly. After all, the many studies we heard about probably made lots of us self-conscious about all the gunk collected on our teeth when we tried not flossing.

As of fall 2020, the no-flossing issue seems to have quietly disappeared on its own.

All Signs Point to “Yes” for Flossing

No matter how many flossing tips and other info you give, many people still avoid flossing as if their lives depended on it. Some lucky souls get away with it, while others floss diligently and end up losing teeth, anyway.

Most found the results of the late 2010s flossing studies unconvincing at best and continued their established flossing routines, regardless of the claims. Flossing has many benefits—even the “no-flossing” studies pointed this out.

So, you flossers keep doing what you’re doing. And the next time you’re sitting in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room, take a look at our other health news. You’re sure to find a lot of helpful info there.

Kenneth Bennett Atticus

Atticus Bennett: Atticus, a sports nutritionist, provides dietary advice for athletes, tips for muscle recovery, and nutrition plans to support peak performance.