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Floss focus: Is string not your thing?

Posted on July 6, 2023 in Healthy You

woman flossing

If there’s one part of a dental cleaning that brings out anxiety and discomfort, it’s when your dentist asks, “How often are you flossing?”

If your bleeding gums don’t give you away, you might be inclined to slip a white lie. It’s hard to estimate how many adults actually floss, but studies estimate that only about 30% of adults over age 30 floss daily.1

Using traditional string floss can be difficult for many people. And when something is hard to use, you stop using it. Fortunately, dental product manufacturers have used this challenge to spark some innovative string floss alternatives that are now on the market.

But before we get to those, it begs the question: Why is flossing so important?

Why you should floss

Flossing once a day is an effective way to prevent cavities and gum disease between your twice-yearly dental appointments.2 

Other benefits of flossing include:

  • Floss can reach between teeth, along the gumline and below the gumline better than your toothbrush. These are areas where bacteria can settle, form plaque and cause problems (like gum disease or cavities).
  • Adding flossing to your toothbrushing routine is the best way to get rid of the bacteria that causes bad breath, compared with brushing alone.
  • Regular flossing keeps your gums looking and feeling healthy by reducing bleeding, swelling and pain.

String floss alternatives

If you know you won’t use string floss, check out some of the traditional floss alternatives below.

Interdental brushes

If wrapping string floss between your fingers is challenging, check out interdental brushes. These little brushes are designed to fit between your teeth, and they’re very effective at scrubbing away plaque. Interdental brushes aren’t as well known as floss, but there are many interdental floss products on the market with various lengths and types so you can find one that fits your needs.

Toothpicks and floss picks

Before you grab a household or restaurant toothpick to floss your teeth, know that there are better options that work just like a regular toothpick but may be even more comfortable. You can purchase dental plaque removers in different materials (wood or rubber, for example) or wooden cleaning sticks that are approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). You can also find floss picks, which are similar to a toothpick as it has a toothpick on one end, but the other end has a small bit of floss held between two posts. These disposable products may be easier to maneuver than string floss.

Water and air flossers

Water and air flossers – sometimes called oral irrigators – are electronic products that use water pressure (from a thin, targeted stream of water) or air pressure (from a thin stream of air with water droplets) to clear away plaque between your teeth. These devices take up more space, require more maintenance and are more expensive than traditional string floss. But, if you’re more apt to use an oral irrigator than string floss, it’s well worth it.

Dental tape

Dental tape is exactly like what it sounds: It’s a wide, flat, tape-looking product that you may find is easier to grip than a thin string. You use it in the same fashion as string floss, sliding it between teeth and scrubbing away debris. If you have a hard time holding on to string floss, dental tape may be a great option for you.

Fun floss facts

When was floss invented? Floss was invented in New Orleans in 1815.3

When’s the best time to floss? Before bedtime, but there’s no bad time to floss.2 

What comes first: brushing or flossing? Floss comes first! Flossing dislodges food stuck on the teeth and gums, then your toothbrush brushes it away.2

Floss like a boss by your next dental visit

Finding the right floss is a big deal for your oral health. The best flossing product for you is the one you will routinely use. If you know using string floss isn’t going to fit into your at-home dental hygiene routine, then it’s important to explore other options to keep your teeth clean. Plus, the next time you visit your dentist and they ask if you’re flossing, you can say a resounding “yes!”


The New York Times



National Center for Biotechnology Information 

University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry

Delta Dental Grin Magazine