Should You Floss Before or After Brushing? What Dentists Say

Should You Floss Before or After Brushing? What Dentists Say
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Should You Floss Before or After Brushing? What Dentists SayClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Brushing & Flossing Order
  2. The Benefits from Flossing First
  3. Why Flossing First Works
  4. References

A small-scale study found that flossing first, then brushing your teeth, can reduce how much plaque collects between your teeth. This might improve oral health outcomes, especially if you are more prone to developing tartar, cavities, and gum disease.

Ultimately, brushing and flossing are both important to perform, so if you floss after brushing, this still helps your oral health.

Brushing & Flossing: Which Should Come First?

Dentists all over the world agree that brushing your teeth at least twice a day, and flossing at least once, preferably twice, will keep your teeth as healthy as possible between visits to your dentist.

For many people, flossing is the second step in their daily oral health routine — brushing comes first. However, is this the right order? Some dentists are finding out that flossing should come first.

Flossing and brushing together are important and can significantly reduce the buildup of tartar, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Ultimately, the order of these operations is up to you, as long as you remember to do both. If you are particularly susceptible to tartar buildup, tooth decay, or gingivitis, you may consider flossing first to get even more benefits from flossing.

Before they reach the ages of 10 to 12, kids will need help to floss their teeth because they don't possess the manual ability to properly clean the area.

The Benefits of Flossing Might Be Improved by Flossing First

Brushing your teeth helps to remove most plaque buildup and bacteria from your teeth, which can collect after you eat or overnight as you sleep. Brushing your teeth cleans most surfaces, but cleaning between your teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes cleans the surfaces that a regular toothbrush cannot reach. Additionally, any food that may get stuck between your teeth can be more effectively removed with dental floss than with a toothbrush.

A medical study found that flossing your teeth first is more effective than flossing them second, after brushing. The study was small, featuring only 25 dental students, but the results suggest a significant improvement in oral health.

After avoiding all brushing and flossing for 48 hours, the students spent two weeks in the first phase, where they brushed their teeth and then flossed, which is standard for most people’s oral healthcare routine. In the second phase, they reversed this pattern: flossing first, then brushing. In the second phase, interdental plaque, or the plaque between your teeth, was significantly reduced compared to brushing and then flossing. However, marginal plaque, or the plaque on the normal surface of your teeth, was not reduced very much.

Still, the plaque between your teeth can be hardest to remove, and it is the most likely to cause cavities and gum disease. Dentists can clean it, but if you are at higher risk of cavities and periodontal disease, you may consider flossing first, to see if that helps keep your teeth cleaner between visits.

You may also consider adding a mouthwash or rinse, rinsing with warm water and salt, or even trying something like coconut oil pulling, which can enhance your oral health even more.

Why Does Flossing First Work?

The small-scale study found that flossing before brushing more effectively loosened debris between the teeth, and then, rinsing the mouth out and brushing after flossing more effectively cleared these particles. Bacteria in the mouth consume remaining food particles and turn the sugar or carbohydrates into acid, which can erode the enamel of your teeth unless this plaque is removed with regular flossing and brushing.

When you floss first, you can loosen more food particles. Then, brushing as normal can more effectively sweep these food particles away.

Using the right technique with dental floss is just as important as using the right technique when you brush your teeth. If you struggle to properly hold dental floss, consider using interdental brushes instead. These are easier to wield for some people, and the heads might be flexible so you can adjust them to a better cleaning angle. You may also consider using a water flosser if holding dental floss or interdental brushes is not easy for you.

Flossing at least once per day and brushing twice per day is the foundation of a good oral hygiene routine. If you remember to floss after brushing more often, you are still getting good benefits.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.