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Should You Floss Before or After Brushing Your Teeth?

Do You Floss Before or After Brushing?One night, shortly after my wife and I got married, we were getting ready for bed and she noticed that I brush my teeth after I floss.  She had always brushed before flossing. We probably would've discussed this fascinating subject in more detail if we hadn't been so tired...

Interestingly, we had both been brushing and flossing in a different order for twenty-some years of our lives before we met each other and we both had pretty good results to show for it.

My thought process goes like this: it wouldn't make sense to wash your hands, and then pick out all of the stuff under your nails because that would just get the dirt all over your freshly-washed hands.  So why would anyone in their right mind floss after brushing?

Well, here's why: Those who advocate flossing after brushing state that when you floss first, you don't brush the plaque away, you simply push it back into the spaces between your teeth where it can grow and cause cavities.

So who's right?  Should you floss before brushing your teeth?  Or should you brush your teeth before flossing?

Should You Floss Before or After Brushing?

After plowing through several dental hygiene-related textbooks, I couldn't find any information on whether you should brush or floss first.

After reading online, I noticed that there are people who are very passionate about this subject — as this forum post demonstrates!

I think the reason that there's not really any concrete recommendations about whether you should brush or floss first is because it really doesn't matter whether you brush or floss first.

The main reason we need to brush and floss is because every time we eat or drink fermentable carbohydrates, the little bugs that live in our mouth grow, reproduce, and build homes on our teeth.  Their waste products are what harm our teeth.

Learn more about plaque by reading What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque.

The best way to combat plaque is to disrupt it, or destroy the intricate colony that it has built on your teeth.  When the bugs are floating around in your mouth, they don't harm your teeth.  They only harm your teeth when they have attached to your teeth and grown into a layer on top of your teeth.  By brushing and flossing, you remove the bugs from your teeth temporarily.  They will re-attach, but then you can simply brush and floss again to disrupt their little home once again and put them in their place.

As long as you are disrupting the bacteria that live between your teeth regularly, they won't be able to cause cavities. When you floss, you scrape them away from their home and it will take them a some time to regroup, get organized, and start growing again between your teeth.

Does It Matter If You Brush or Floss First?

It really doesn't matter!  In fact, you don't even need to brush and floss at the same time.  As long as you're eating good foods, brushing twice a day, flossing once per day, and avoiding these ten common flossing mistakes, you should be fine.

Want more tips on how to combat the plaque in your mouth?  Read about these Top 12 Weapons of Plaque Destruction!

Do you have any questions, comments, or thoughts on whether you should brush or floss first?  In what order do you brush and floss?  Feel free to leave your opinions below in the comments section.  Thanks for reading!


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22 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. This is great! My husband and I had the same discussion. I say brush first, then floss, and a quick rinse with water to top it all off. I'm glad to know it doesn't really matter!

    • Hi Hannah - Thanks for your comment! As long as you're removing the plaque, it shouldn't matter.

      Now that I think about it, it's kind of like asking, "Should I brush front or the back of my teeth first?"

      In between the teeth is just another surface that needs to be cleaned as well.

  2. There is a thought that, by flossing first, the bacterial film is disrupted so that the fluoride in the toothpaste can get to the tooth surface more efficiently, thereby facilitating remineralization.

    • Hi Patricia - I hadn't thought about the ease of getting fluoride in between the teeth. I looked into this a little in the book, Fluoride in Dentistry, and found that the toothpaste can transfer fluoride into the plaque, which touches the tooth surface:

      "Fluoride in plaque exists in ionic and bound forms: as in saliva, the concentration is determined by the frequency of fluoride exposure and the fluoride concentration of the source. Sources of plaque fluoride include the diet, saliva and crevicular fluoride. Dental plaque (wet weight) contains a total of 5-10 ppm fluoride wet weight. Only a small part is present as free ions, the amount being dependent on exposure to fluoride."

      It would probably be better to have the fluoride in direct contact with the tooth, rather than having to go through the plaque. Also, if you floss right after, you would simply remove that fluoride-enriched plaque, so it wouldn't have much of an effect. It seems like the fluoride would work most efficiently if you flossed before brushing and then didn't rinse out with water after brushing...

      Then we get into the question of whether or not to rinse after brushing. Thanks for your comment, Patricia - you helped me see another side of this question!

  3. My RDH co-workers and I have discussed that exact same theory in the past--that the fluoride-rich plaque can actually can hold the fluoride on the tooth. It's hard to say if leaving cariogenic plaque on the tooth for the purposes of remineraliziation is still a viable theory or not--it used to be, however. The instructions that come with a newer fluoride and calcium/phosphate toothpaste suggest that adults shouldn't rinse after two minutes of brushing (expectorate only) but children should. Personally, I still rinse because I don't want to swallow excess fluoride, but a higher cavity-risk individual or someone with demineralized enamel may benefit from leaving the excess paste in the mouth.

    • Hi Patricia - Thanks for your comment. There are a lot of variables to consider, so it is difficult to make blanket recommendations to everyone. I always rinse as well. Sometimes I'll use fluoride mouthrinse after brushing.

  4. Dear friends, I have a factual reason it is better to floss before brushing. Prior to flossing there is food particulates such as meat etc stuck between your teeth. If this remains when brushing the fluoride can't make contact with the surface between teeth because the food is obstruction the toothpaste. I don't think it will matter much however, if you floss and brush everyday regardless of what order, but I do think what I say is true. God's blessings to you and your family. Rüdi J Calkövsky

  5. This is great, I'm blown away by how no one knows what is best. I flosss then brush, the reason being is because I know the bio-film I just disrupted is still in my mouth which tastes horrible. Sometimes I brush after a teeth cleaning at the dentist too, the scraping of the plaque there that leaves a terrible taste is the same crud your taking out after you clean you teeth. Its kind of like if your hair was full of nasty muck and your body was dirty, it wouldn't make sense to go to town on your face and body with a wash cloth, then shampoo all that mud and have it remnants of that muck on you, would it?

    My question is.... When you floss I know its important to wrap the floss around the tooth somewhat and not just go in straight. But- should you do a back and forth sliding motion or a root to crown "up and down" scraping motion? I use ribbon floss so I wonder what does what.

  6. Hi Brian, I believe absolutely you should floss back and forth (most important), and up and down if possible. The back and forth motion "pulls" the food out of between your teeth. Especially meat. Be sure to go down both sides of the "V" of the gums and pull the floss out and in gently without cutting your gums. For me, my teeth are tight together except at the base of the gums so I can't really go up and down much without the floss tearing. To everyone, if we are all talking together about flossing it shows that we truly care about our oral hygiene so we should all have great teeth regardless. God's blessings to you and your family. Rüdi J Calkövsky

  7. If flossing causes bleeding then you must brush first so that you introduce as little bacteria into your gums and bloodstream as possible. Think of it like disinfecting a surgical site before cutting. However, it is also important to clean away the plaque that is loosened after flossing as occurs by flossing afterwards. So, you want to minimize plaque and bacteria before flossing and remove the same after. This can be accomplished by brush-floss-brush, anti plaque rinse-floss-brush, or brush-floss-rinse. Note also that you are probably not currently doing any of these steps adequately. It's harder than even good flossers and
    and brushes realize. JMF, DDS.

  8. what is your opinion on dry brushing first, before using toothpaste?

    • Dry brushing would be a terrible idea. Not to insult anyone or come off as rude but the purpose of the water is not only to activate the suds of a toothpaste but also to lubricate the tooth. Dry brushing is scraping/sanding your enamel far fast then brief wet brushing sessions. You may develop dark brown spots, this is your dentin exposed. Exposed dentin on a tooth results in a huge risk of cavities on the tooth of which is exposed. I'd like to hear back from you and see weather of not you have any dark brown spots already from previously dry brushing.

  9. How long does it take for you guys to floss effectively? Sometimes I'm in there a good 5 minutes flossing. lol.

  10. @brian I have read quite a bit of good things regarding dry brushing. also the brush is less abrasive then the toothpaste itself. there was a recent study done stating the effectiveness of dry brushing, google it. also check mens health magazine. Plus toothpaste is way more abrasive than a dry toothbrush.(per abrasion studies)

    • This study seems like it was favoring tooth pastes like Crest Pro Health and other flavor crystal/grainy toothpastes. A perfect example to disrupt their control in their theory/study would be a specimen like Sensodyne Iso Active pure foam toothpaste. But I see what you mean when you say dry brushing is less abrasive then wet brushing grains into your teeth.

      On this blog page, instead of @Naming people, there is a reply post-it next to (beneath) the posters name your referring to. That way posts are more organized in a outline/bulletin format.

      Lastly it would help others a great deal instead of just remarking "google it" to in the future go the extra mile and leave a few reputable sources on the matter, more importantly the one your argument is favor of.

      Hope I helped.

      Cheers!

      • Dry brushing removes more plaque and significantly reduces gum bleeding. The article was in a recent issue of mens health magazine.you should read it BEFORE commenting. Hope THAT helps

        • I'm just baffled as to why someone would phrase a question later to become hardened into a statement without the input they were wishing to receive? What was the point?

          #umadbro?

          • relax.... I was just wondering if anyone actually dry brushed? Calm down, it was just a question.

            • also ... Per my dentist, toothpaste is not even needed at all. Have you looked at all the dangerous chemicals in the ingredient list? I use tooth powder containing xylitol. Research the benefits of xylitol for dental care. Also in addition to flossing use a rubber tipped gum massager, it breaks up plaque formation where the floss cannot reach. I have picture perfect gums due to good oral care,flossing, but MAINLY using a gum massager. I obtained mine from my dentist, but I noticed bed bath and beyond sells them now for $2.99. I would never go without it.

  11. My god. You people are ridiculous.

    Why the hell would you make an article about a question, if your answer is going to be it doesn't matter? If the answer doesn't matter then your article doesn't matter.

  12. After reading several different internet posts, the consensus is that the cleaning result is the same either way. However, one post did mention that if you floss first, it will allow the fluoride toothpaste to better get in the spaces after flossing. And I was not previously a "floss first" advocate.

  13. Does it matter what type of floss or if the floss is waxed or not? I was told to use waxed, ribbon floss but to be sure to floss before brushing.

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Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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