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Flossing More Important Than Brushing, Dentists Say


Flossing is like Mitt Romney– it has an image problem it can’t seem to shake.

I was at the dentist the other day and we end up talking about it. I had to force him to choose. It was hard, but  he finally admitted it. In fact, the whole dental office agreed.

Flossing is more important, but nobody wants to tell you.

They don’t want to tell you because they think you’ll stop brushing, so no one has the courage to tell you flossing is better and results in less cavities.

So I figured, ok, now that I’ve gotten them to admit this, I wonder if this will change my behaviour.

Turns out it does. Once I knew flossing is more important than brushing, I started flossing immediately. Now I’m flossing all over the place. Twice, sometimes three times a day! And I didn’t stop brushing either.

The fact is, what’s wrong with most problems is their presentation. Not the idea itself, but the way it is

It isn’t clear enough. Being on the inside clouds our judgment. The project, and the public, suffer as a result.

I dare you to ask your dentist which is more important. I’d be fascinated to see whether it changes your habits.

So I made something I’d like you to share. Spread it. Maybe make it your iPhone background. Let’s see if it changes the way you think.


* Filed by at 4:23 pm under experiments

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29 Responses to “Flossing More Important Than Brushing, Dentists Say”

  1. Calum Says:

    I try to floss twice a day, and my dentist still thinks I do a crap job!

  2. Mary E. Ulrich Says:

    Poster in Dentist Office

    Patient: “How many teeth do I have to floss?”

    Dentist: “Only the ones you want to save.”

  3. Mark Brown Says:

    I started flossing twice daily about two months ago. I think it’s one of the best habits anyone can develop for themselves as it has a carry-over effect into other areas of life.

  4. Jeff Cloud Says:

    I had this same discussion with my dental hygienist. She scared the bejeezus out of me. She not only told me it was the most powerful thing we can do to fight cavities – but described how, when left un-flossed, our teeth and gums can and will be susceptible to all sorts of nasty infections.

    Then she backed it up…with pictures.

    Now I floss at least once a day.

    /still grossed out about it.

  5. Fernando Says:

    My mom is a dentist, and as soon I received your email I showed to her. So I asked, what do you think. And she said, true…. we don’t want to tell you this because then you will be so lazy and will stop brushing your teeth.
    Damn, she is my mom and she never told me how important it was…. well maybe she did but hey, who doesn’t hate flossing.
    Thanks sir for this incredibly interesting piece of text.

  6. Andi-Roo (@theworld4realz) Says:

    Glad to have my fears & suspicions confirmed. Seems logical that getting between your teeth to remove those tough-to-reach ickies is the more important of the two. I don’t floss as often as I should, but more so now that I have kids — & I make them brush & floss daily! I like shortcuts, so if anyone else has problems taking the time to do this tedious chore, I suggest doing it in the shower. You’re already a wet mess, & the clean-up is obviously much easier, plus no splashing spittle & gunk on the mirror. *not that I’ve ever done that before* (whistles innocently…)

  7. Maša Says:

    Thanks for giving me a reminder. I actually didn’t know it was that important. :blush: /gone to stick a post-it note in the bathroom

  8. Susan Cooper Says:

    I knew it. Now you’ve confirmed it. I floss everyday. I didn’t use to, for some unknown reason, but now I do. I can’t tell you what provide the desire/push to do so. It just happened. :)))

  9. Sami Says:

    Snowboarding is better than sex. It’s true.

    …just thought to let you know. No need to thank me.


  10. Benjamin Says:

    I’ve been flossing daily for about two months now, the thing that did it for me was the quote “those who floss know why they floss”, which is a fairly (and grossly) accurate picture of my experience so far.

  11. Ronda - AKA Ms Missing Most Molars Says:

    I love it, and can’t wait to present this question to my dentist. I was always put off by the flossing issue, especially when the hygienist put a pink tablet in my mouth, revealing the disgusting true nature of my flossing defect. Self esteem gone! The kindergarten explaination of gummy “critters” insulted my intelligence. But alas, they were right. Now I face the humiliation of repeatedly taking a partial in for a clasp repair – “You don’t take care of your stuff!” they chide. It’s not my fault that they fly off the car seat when I brake for raccoons! Too much moral judgement for me… Great food for thought, that WON’T get stuck in my teeth. Thanks.

  12. Aaron Nestor Says:

    Julien. In an effort to remind myself I made this lock screen, but couldn’t keep it to myself! Enjoy.


  13. George D Says:

    Do it twice a day. Because it’s easier than doing it once per day – seriously.

    I floss in a quick, cursory way in the morning after brushing, and then again at night. It takes me a few seconds, and doesn’t drag out, nor does it work the gums too hard. I’d rather do 80% of the job twice daily than not at all (if it took forever I think I’d be as infrequent as the rest of us). Of course, I do it more often than that if there’s a pretty girl I’m seeing, or I just want to feel a little cleaner.

    This is such a practical post, I love it.

  14. Christine Says:

    Ha! This is great. You are right about the ineffective presentation. My dad is a dentist and he tells me this all the time. Now I just need to listen.

  15. Rebecca Schmorr Says:

    Flossing is super important, but I like how this post is relevant not just to us dentists but the challenges that we all face in life. A simple change of thought, can definitely go a long way.

  16. Tim Says:

    LOL! Dude, this is so crazy. I’ve had the same feeling for a while but you’re right…they never tell you it is!

    Ironically, I am going on 1 week straight (today is August 24th – not sure when you posted this) of flossing every night. I’ve ALWAYS had a hard time making flossing a habit, so here’s how I am making it happen…if it helps anyone.

    My dentist scared the shit out of me a few times saying that if bacteria gets in between my teeth long enough I could lose bone.

    Bone is irreplaceable (as far as I know) so every night I remind myself that I don’t want to lose bone in my jaw and I force myself to brush and floss before I get too tired. So basically every night I have to scare the shit out of myself all over again about my jaw falling apart to get me to floss. Sounds ridiculous but it’s been working. Plus I remind myself that it really only takes like 30 seconds and if I do it straight for about 30 days it will just become habit so I shouldn’t have to scare the shit out of myself to do it anymore (hopefully).

  17. Ralph Says:

    Eat your veggies my mom used to say…..damn, she was right too.

  18. Chris Burdge Says:

    Funny. I got talking to my oral hygienist about flossing the last time I was getting a cleaning. She said something that hit me in the mouth.

    “Only floss the teeth you want to keep”.

  19. Amz1129 Says:

    It’s so funny how something as simple as a dentist actually taking the time to tell you the truth about how important flossing is can change your behaviors in a major way. The truth can often set you free, but I guess it can also change the way you live! Hopefully you can take this lesson on flossing into all avenues of your life. Sometimes, looking at a problem behavior from another perspective can be very enlightening 🙂

  20. John King Says:

    It’s so true! Ever since I committed to flossing before bed I’ve had glowing reports at my 6-month dentist checkup. I’d HIGHLY recommend DenTek Comfort clean floss picks. Don’t get any old DenTek as ‘Comfort’ are superior (IMO) to the others. Much faster to use than regular floss.

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