Flossing is one of the things on your morning and evening to-do list that sometimes falls to the wayside. But just how bad is it to not floss daily? Is it as bad as not washing your sheets every week or not washing your hands after using the bathroom? Here's what dentists think.
Your teeth need more than just a brush
Teeth exist to help us break down and eat food. So it's because of our diet that we need to floss every single day, according to Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of Askthedentist.com, and the author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox. Processed foods and starchy carbohydrates cause cavities and gum disease if you don't floss since brushing doesn't clear every crevice in your teeth, says Dr. Burhenne. "When these foods aren't cleared from these spots, they cause dysbiosis of the oral microbiome and destruction of the teeth and gums," he says.
This food waste, plus saliva, combine to create bacteria that live in plaque and surrounds your teeth, according to Bill Dorfman, DDS, a celebrity cosmetic dentist. This bacteria in plaque is the culprit behind cavities, gingivitis, and even bone or tooth loss, along with other dental issues, Dr. Dorfman says. Floss is better than just a toothbrush for removing plaque because the string actually goes in between your teeth. And when you do use your brush on those pearly whites, remember that this is exactly how to brush your teeth.
So what's the worst that could happen?
How bad skipping floss is depends on how well you clean your mouth—but not flossing isn't worth gambling your oral health, says Dr. Dorfman. The most likely scenario for a person who doesn't floss every day is chronic gingivitis and more cavities than one who flosses daily, per Dr. Burhenne. And if you don't treat these cavities, it will lead to multiple root canal treatments or extractions, Dr. Dorfman adds. You might also have bad breath and an imbalance in your oral microbiome.
And if all that doesn't convince you to pick up the string, know this: "The worst case scenario after decades of this process, or less, is the loss of teeth and large cavities, advanced gum disease with painful gum recession, and a much higher risk of conditions like chronic inflammation, Alzheimer's, and diabetes," says Dr. Burhenne. Risks like these are why skipping floss is one of the 30 everyday mistakes you're probably making that will ruin your teeth.
Is there another way to keep my teeth clean and healthy?
The answer is a hard "no" from Dr. Dorfman. "But if you can't floss, a WaterPik is the next best thing, but is not as good," he says. There are some studies, however, that suggest water flossing with a WaterPik is just as effective as regular flossing, Dr. Burhenne says. However, he still recommends keeping up a regular flossing habit and using water flossers as a supplement—not a replacement. Dr. Dorfman recommends flossing two to three times a day with waxed floss. "Make sure to go all the way down, under the gums, forming a 'C' with the floss around the tooth," he says. If going beneath the gum line hurts, that means you aren't flossing enough, according to Dr. Burhenne. If your teeth bleed when you brush or floss, it might be thanks to one of these 6 reasons. Bottom line: Dr. Dorfman says to only floss the teeth you want to keep.