Updated on February 22, 2024
4 min read

How to Floss Your Teeth (and What Happens if You Don’t)

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Many people brush their teeth daily but skip flossing because they don’t see the immediate benefit. A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study showed that around a third of American adults never floss.2

However, brushing without flossing is less effective. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reaffirmed flossing as an “important oral hygiene practice.”5

How to Floss Your Teeth (Step-by-Step Instructions)

A focused shot of a man flossing his teeth using a dental floss

Flossing your teeth can be uncomfortable initially, but it’s easy to get the hang of after you’ve done it a few times. Follow these steps for an ideal flossing technique:

  1. Pull off an 18-inch-long piece of floss.
  2. Wrap most of the floss around your middle fingers, leaving a small section in between.
  3. Gently push the floss between two teeth.
  4. Once the floss touches your gums, wrap it against the side of one tooth.
  5. While holding the floss against the tooth, gently move it back and forth and up and down. Make sure to reach the gum line. Then, repeat the same action on the side of the other tooth.
  6. Unwind some of the wrapped floss from around your finger, using a new section of floss.
  7. Repeat the process above for the rest of your teeth.

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How to Floss Your Teeth With a Water Flosser

If you want to floss with a water flosser, aim the water between your teeth and rinse away any food particles. Make sure to get the front and back sides of every tooth.

Depending on your water flosser, you may have to follow specific product instructions to fill the flosser with water and charge it if necessary. Also, some water flossers can attach to your toothbrush, while others are separate.

Should You Floss in the Morning or at Night?

The time of day you floss is up to you. The ADA does not have any specific advice on when you should floss, just that you should do it correctly and every day.

The most important thing is that you pick a time you’re the most likely to stick with. Do it when it’s convenient for you, and you’ll have adopted a new healthy habit before long.

Should You Floss Before or After Brushing?

You should floss before you brush your teeth. When you floss before brushing, it helps dislodge any food or plaque debris that the toothbrush can then remove. It may also lower the risk of gum disease and bad breath.

One study found that flossing before brushing was better at reducing plaque.6 Also, brushing after flossing led to more fluoride remaining in the mouth.

How Often Should You Floss Your Teeth?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you should floss once daily.

Flossing is essential for a lot of reasons, according to the ADA. Over 500 bacterial species, both good and bad, can be found in plaque. When that bacteria mixes with food debris, water, and other substances, it can damage your teeth.

Flossing once daily will help remove plaque and bacteria from between your teeth. This will not only help protect against cavities but also prevent conditions caused by poor dental hygiene.

Is it Bad to Floss Twice a Day?

There’s nothing wrong with flossing twice daily, but it’s unnecessary. You might floss a second time to remove food stuck between your teeth.

The most important thing is to be gentle (too much pressure will irritate your gums) while still being thorough.

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What Happens if You Don’t Floss Your Teeth Daily?

If you don’t floss your teeth daily, you raise your risk for numerous oral health issues, including tooth decay and gum disease.

Brushing alone isn’t sufficient for removing the sticky film of plaque between teeth. Left long enough, plaque eventually hardens into a rough substance called tartar.

Tartar collects along your gums and can lead to cavities and gum disease. Only your dentist can remove it with a professional cleaning.

Flossing daily is key to a clean mouth and may serve as good preventive care for complications elsewhere in the body. For example, evidence suggests poor oral health is linked to diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses, and Alzheimer’s Disease.11


You should floss once daily before you brush your teeth. Flossing removes bacteria and helps prevent plaque buildup, gum disease, and tooth decay.

Dentists typically recommend waxed string floss, but you can also use other types of floss, including floss holders and water flossers.

Flossing daily increases the effectiveness of your oral hygiene routine. Start flossing once daily to help avoid costly dental bills and take care of your overall health.

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Last updated on February 22, 2024
11 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Flossing.” American Dental Association, 2013.
  2. Inside Investigations: CDC’s Disease Detective Conference.” CDC Newsroom, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016.
  3. Genovesi et al. “Periodontal Maintenance Following Scaling and Root Planing, Comparing Minocycline Treatment to Daily Oral Irrigation with Water.” Tuscan Stomatologic Institute, Department of Dentistry, 2013.
  4. Lyle et al. “Comparison of Water Flosser and Interdental Brush on Plaque Removal: A Single-Use Pilot Study.” The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, Waterpik.com, 2016.
  5. Manchir, M. “Government, ADA recognize importance of flossing.” American Dental Association, Dehnert Dental, 2016.
  6. Mazhari, F. “The effect of toothbrushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention: A randomized controlled clinical trial.” Journal of Periodontology, Wiley Online Library, 2018.
  7. Miller, R. “Oral-B Glide floss tied to potentially toxic PFAS chemicals, study suggests.” USA Today, 2019.
  8. Ng et al. “An Overview of Different Interdental Cleaning Aids and Their Effectiveness.” Dentistry Journal, National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  9. Rack, J. “Are You Flossing Or Just Lying About Flossing? The Dentist Knows.” NPR, 2015.
  10. Winning et al. “Periodontitis and systemic disease.” BDJ Team, Springer Nature Limited, 2015.
  11. Noble et al. “Poor oral health as a chronic, potentially modifiable dementia risk factor: review of the literature.” Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep, 2013.
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