Do You Actually Have to Floss?


Claims have been circulating that flossing is pointless. Here’s the truth

It all started with an article from the Daily Mail: “Flossing is a waste of time!” the headline insists.

Then it snowballed into talk-show hosts shaking their fists at the Great Floss Conspiracy.

“Why does the dentist [tell you to floss]? Because he’s got a dime in that floss business, I’m telling you,” said one talking head on Fox News.

So here’s why TV anchors shouldn’t get their health advice from a site that covers nip slips: It’s not exactly accurate.

The Daily Mail article claimed that a review in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found no evidence that cleaning between your teeth helps fight gum disease.

But here’s what the review actually concluded: “All investigated devices for inter-dental self-care seem to support the management of gingivitis.”

To be fair, the research on the effectiveness of flossing is mixed: Some prior studies found little evidence that flossing makes a difference in oral health, but others studies suggest that it significantly reduces gingivitis.

However, the three leading dental experts we polled agreed: Yes, you should clean between your teeth.

It’s one of the most important things you can do to keep your mouth healthy, says Joan Otomo-Corgel, D.D.S., the president of the American Academy of Periodontology and a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry.

That’s because your toothbrush bristles can’t reach the tight spaces between your pearly whites. Plaque—a film of bacteria—builds up there.

Those germs generate acid, which irritates your gums and can lead to gum disease, says Dr. Otomo-Corgel.

(When gum disease progresses, your teeth can actually become loose, says Men’s Health dentistry advisor Mark Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D.)

But loosening up that gunk between your teeth reduces bacteria—and as a result, your risk of gum disease, says Dr. Otomo-Corgel.

It doesn’t have to be with floss. You can also use mini brushes designed for reaching between your teeth, special wooden or plastic picks, or water flossers.

The best tool depends on how big the spaces are between your teeth, what you like using, and whether you employ proper technique, so talk to your dentist about the ideal method for you, she says.