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The Best Way to Floss, According to an Expert Dentist

Is a waterpik better than flossing? Do you need baking soda-coated string? We found out.

he makes oral hygiene a priority
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Just like showering and shaving, flossing, at least at surface level, is an innate task — something we're shown a few times and learn for life. However, based on a few memorable (and seemingly relatable) tweets, most folks forget to do it until days before their next dental checkup, which results in bloodied gums and irritated teeth.

Flossing is, admittedly easy to forget. In fact, only 32 percent of adults floss daily, according to a study done by Dr. Eleanor Fleming for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 68 percent say they do it at least once a week, but that isn't enough to clear food and other debris, which accumulates with every drink, meal, snack or smoke break.

So, we asked a dentist — Dr. Marashi, an artistic dental restoration expert in Los Angeles, with clients ranging from Ryan Seacrest to Ben Affleck — a few flossing questions, like whether it's actually all that important and whether dentists really can tell if you haven't.

Is flossing really that important?

"Yes. It's not to make the dentist happy," Dr. Marashi says. "It's to keep the patient’s teeth healthy and clean!"

Can you replace floss with a waterpik?

"Waterpiks are an adjunct to flossing; they should not replace it."

Are coated flosses better?

"These are a popular option right now because people who are not consistent with flossing get discoloration on the sidewall surface of the teeth, and charcoal has a whitening action to it. Baking soda-coated, charcoal-coated, or traditional floss, the importance is not how fancy the floss is, but simply that you floss your teeth in the first place."

What does flossing do for your teeth?

"Flossing removes the food and debris stuck in between your teeth, including what is on the tooth surface and below the gum line. The bristles from a toothbrush simply can't get in there like floss can. Remember, every time you floss between the teeth, it’s two teeth that you’re cleaning — a side from one tooth and a side from the other."

What happens when you don't floss?

"When you don't floss regularly, then there is a percentage of your tooth that continues to build up debris. This can lead to cavities or gum inflammation and disease like gingivitis and periodontitis. How? Well, any debris that is left on the tooth surface serves as a food source for bacteria in your mouth. Bacteria eat away at the food and secrete an acid as a byproduct that basically burns a hole in your tooth. Then the bacteria goes into the tooth, colonizes, and spreads. That right there is the decay process. The same bacteria also release toxins that cause periodontal inflammation."

Is there a right way to floss?

"Most people think it’s just up and down once and that is it. What you actually want is to go up and along the curve of the tooth, under the gum, and back down, and then do the same motion along the adjacent tooth. Repeat this up and down motion a couple of times.

"Go up and along the curve of the tooth, under the gum, and back down."

Under the gum is the most skipped area. People typically just floss up and down once real quick, but chances are, if you’re doing that, you’re leaving debris on the tooth — there is still stuff that could be wedged in there that you’re not getting out. The process itself is no more than a couple seconds on each surface. In total, flossing should take about one to two minutes."

    When should you floss?

    "In a perfect world, you would floss after each meal. But let’s be serious, 99 percent of the population is not going to do that out of lack of desire. So, if you are only going to do it once, do it before bed when you brush your teeth. At that point, you’re done eating for the day and you can get all the debris out of your teeth from the collective of meals. If you wait to floss until morning, bacteria have already done some harm."

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