Not All Dental Floss Is Created Equal

Flossing your teeth is kind of like taking out the trash: It’s time consuming, it’s not always pleasant, but you’ve got to do it if you want a clean, healthy mouth – or home, in the case of the trash. In fact, flossing is so important that it is responsible for removing about 40 percent of the plaque and bacteria that sits on our teeth causing gum disease and cavities. Thankfully, there are many products out there to make flossing your teeth easier and more comfortable. But not all flossing products are created equally. Here’s why one tried-and-true product may be causing you more harm than good.

Convenient But Harmful?

Dental floss picks have been a popular oral care product since they were first invented in 1972. The small disposable plastic picks are a fast, easy way to floss teeth on the go, or even to access those harder-to-reach teeth that can be tricky to get to with traditional dental floss. But while effective at tackling plaque, if you’re looking for a healthy beautiful smile, you may want to put down those dental flossers, because they may be doing your smile more harm than you realize.

“The problem with flossers is that they can actually damage the interdental papilla of the gums,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a cosmetic dentist from Wexford, Pennsylvania.

Keeping Gums Healthy

Defined as the little triangle of gum tissue between each tooth, the interdental papilla are the gateway to protecting your teeth and gums from gum disease. Healthy interdental papilla should be triangular in shape, a coral pink color, firm and unmoving, and they should not bleed when you floss them. The good news is that with regular flossing they can stay in great condition. The bad news is that interdental papilla doesn’t grow back – so if you lose it to gum disease or, in the case of dental picks, to rough flossing, you’ll never get it back.

So, should you just skip using dental flossers altogether? George says there’s no need to be that extreme.

“Dental flossers are still great tools for oral health, but they should only be used once in awhile – not every single time you floss,” George says. “Using them once in a while or to get a tough particle out from between your teeth shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you use them gently and be careful not to injure your gums. That will help maintain the beautiful results your smile is already getting from regular flossing.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on September 10th, 2018