You brush your teeth religiously, but at the end of a long day, the last thing you want to do is work your gums with dental floss. So, is it okay to skip it every once in a while?
“If you don’t floss, you’re only doing half the job. And you’re not cleaning out the food particles between the teeth,” says Dr. Timothy Chase of SmilesNY, who recommends doing it at least once a day. And while brushing may tackle the fronts, backs, and tops, it’s those places where your chompers touch that pose the real problem for potential cavities.
Still, cavities are the least of your worries. Lax or nonexistent flossing can also cause gingivitis, periodontitis, and even tooth loss — and the negative effects don’t just stop at your mouth. “A problem with the gums can affect the rest of the body,” says Dr. Joseph Banker of Creative Dental Care. In fact, tooth and gum diseases are linked to premature birth, heart disease, and even stroke.
Scared straight, yet? There are also some superficial benefits to flossing — including a really nice smile and sweet-smelling breath. “It will absolutely, 100% make your teeth appear whiter,” explains Dr. Banker. Although it doesn’t actually change the shade, removing soft food particles in those crevices makes the edges of your teeth match the fronts. And by adding air to the gums, it helps kill smelly bacteria.
If you still feel like flossing is a chore, it might be time to try some new techniques. Instead of “holding a string like we did back in 1950,” says Dr. Banker, try flossers with replaceable heads. The one-handed tool lets you multitask (e.g. check your phone) while you do the job. Dr. Chase also suggests dental tape (also called ribbon floss) or rubber-band-like options. The wider surface area requires less elbow grease.
One caveat: Don’t go overboard. If you floss too aggressively, you can end up damaging your gums.