Should You Floss Before Or After Brushing?

Jump to Section

The International Journal of Dental Clinics is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links.

Should you floss before or after brushing your teeth?

You probably already know that good dental hygiene is absolutely vital if you want to have healthy teeth and an appealing smile. And you are probably also aware that flossing your teeth is an essential part of the recommended daily oral health routine. 

But do you know whether you are supposed to floss before or after brushing your teeth? Do you know whether one better than the other? The answer might not be what you’d expected.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

To floss or not to floss?

Unfortunately, many adults are still unsure of how to brush their teeth properly.

One manifestation of this lack of knowledge is flossing, or rather the general lack of flossing. Did you know that a staggering 30% of adults don’t use floss, at least not on a daily basis?

The trend is concerning to dentists, because brushing and potentially using mouthwash is not enough to maintain good oral hygiene. 

Think of your teeth and mouth as the barrier that filters and crushes the food before it can pass into your body. In order to properly server their evolutionary purpose, your teeth have all sorts of of crevices and gaps where food particles and plaque may be trapped or hidden.

When you brush your teeth, you will be able to get rid of much of the plaque buildup and the food particles left in your mouth after meals – but the bristles of your brush simply cannot reach all of it. This is why interdental plaque reduction is such an important aspect of every good oral hygiene routine.

Removing plaque, tartar and stuck bits of food from your mouth on a daily basis is necessary if you want to keep your teeth and gums healthy and free from decay and gum disease. And if you want to get rid of all of the plaque and the food particles that builds up between your teeth and along your gum line, you will have to floss.

How flossing prevents tooth decay and gum disease

Tooth decay and gum disease are able to develop if food particles, saliva and bacteria combine to form a sticky film called plaque. When plaque is left to sit on the surface of the teeth and gums for too long, the buildup can harden, which makes it significantly more difficult to remove. At the same time, the bacteria found in plaque emits acids which erode the enamel of your teeth.

Flossing lifts and removes plaque and food particles from between your teeth, and from your gemlike where it can also get stuck.

The ideal oral health routine

Is there a correct or ideal brushing and flossing sequence?

Yes, indeed, there is such a thing as an ideal oral health routine and a correct order in which to clean your teeth and mouth.

If you are unsure of which order or technique to use, never be afraid of asking your dentist for advice. There are far too many adults who are brushing their teeth incorrectly or insufficiently every day and end up suffering with the consequence. And by consequences we mean dental decay and gum disease.

Flossing

It is always best to floss before brushing your teeth, although flossing at all is much better than skipping this essential part of your oral health routine.

Interdental plaque is a huge problem, not only in the short term where it simply gives you bad breath, but particularly in the medium to long term where the acids released by the plaque attack the teeth. This is what can eventually lead to tooth decay, tooth loss and other even more serious health problems.

Plaque does not only build up between the teeth, but also between the teeth and the gums. This can cause gingival and periodontal disease in addition to dental decay, neither of which are pleasant to contend with.

The reason why it is better to use dental floss before brushing your teeth is that flossing removes and loosens all of the food particles and hardened plaque that the brush isn’t able to loosen on its own. Once you have loosened the plaque by flossing, the fluoride that washes through your mouth when you are brushing will wash away plaque and will also flow into the areas that were previously covered by plaque.

Use interdental brushes where you cannot reach with floss

Dental floss is designed to be able to reach all of those hard-to-reach places between your teeth. However, some people have crowded teeth with very tight spaces between them. If this is you, use interdental brushes instead of floss. 

Interdental brushes are tiny-bristled brushes that are designed to fit in the tightest of gaps between teeth and between the teeth and the gum line. They come in a variety of different sizes and are available from most drugstores and pharmacies, as well as online.

If you are wondering how to floss properly while wearing braces, read our article on the topic here.

Brushing your teeth

Only after flossing your teeth is it time for toothbrushing.

The most effective technique for brushing your teeth is to use short and tight circular motions while making sure to brush all three sides of your teeth – back, top and front. 

The American Dental Association recommends spending 2 minutes brushing your teeth per cleaning for the fluoride to do its job, which is of course to clean the teeth as well as to protect and strengthen the tooth enamel.

Always use fluoride toothpaste and fluoride mouthwash

According to The American Dental Association you should always use a fluoride toothpaste.

Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps loosen and eliminate plaque and food particles, while also strengthening your teeth’s enamel. All in all, it is the most important active ingredient in toothpaste. 

To help with fluoride retention, try to resist either rinsing or eating immediately after you are done brushing. Leaving the fluoride to work on your teeth for longer is the preferred way to go about things.

Takeaway

It may seem counterintuitive, but if you want to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as can be, it is better to floss before rather than after brushing your teeth.

Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once is ideal. Maintaining good dental hygiene by following this simple daily routine is the best way to ensure white, healthy and strong teeth in the long term.

As for flossing specifically, it is fair to say that it provides benefits to your oral health that no amount of brushing can make up for. Dental floss cleans deeper than any toothbrush, and releases stubborn food particles and hardened plaque that you wouldn’t be able to get rid of otherwise. In this way, flossing is also an effective defence against gum disease.

 

Dr Febin Mary George - Editor

With more than 10 years as a dental surgeon, Dr Febin Mary George is passionate about educating consumers around the world to help look after their teeth.

She completed her Bachelor of Surgery at the Century Institute of Dental Science and Research Centre in 2010.

Alongside editing the International Journal of Dental Clinics she has also written for major publications including Thrive Global.