Should you floss before or after brushing

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 83940)

Floss before or after brushing?

We know that we should brush twice a day and floss once a day, but just when should we floss?

Do we do it before or after we brush our teeth?

Let me tell you the answer and why.

You should floss before brushing your teeth.

However, unlike how often you should floss which is pretty much unanimously agreed upon as at least once a day, this is one of those questions that is argued both ways and there is more variance in the answer given.

The argument for flossing before brushing

Reasons given for flossing and interdental cleaning before brushing your teeth boil down to the thought and belief that by doing it before brushing; you are cleaning the interdental space and gaps within your teeth, disrupting the plaque and food particles so that they can be more easily brushed away when you brush your teeth.

The fluoride in the toothpaste will make better contact with sides of the teeth, to give that extra level of protection.  It can’t do this as well if flossing is completed after brushing.

The argument for flossing after brushing

By brushing your teeth first, you are removing the bulk of plaque and then when you floss you remove the remainder but also help push or force the fluoride left on the teeth into the spaces in between the teeth and gums.

Interdental brushes before or after brushing?

An alternative or great addition to your oral care routine is the use of interdental brushes.

The arguments as to when you should or should not use them are the same.

It is best, if you use interdental brushes before brushing.

Different opinions on when to floss

As I suggested above, the answer to this question is one that brings mixed opinion, depending on who you speak to and what articles you read.

From my research the majority of professionals suggest before rather than after.

The National Health Service (NHS) are a leading voice and their suggestion is before brushing.

Such an approach is one that is backed by Sharon Albright and Frey Smiles.

We also reached out to Abigail Pearson, a hygienist at Purity Clinic:

The main aim for interdental cleaning is to disrupt the plaque settling in the interdental space. I normally advise my patients to use their interdental aids before they brush, for a couple of reasons.

  • They are more likely to stick to a routine if they do the tricky, boring bit first
  • The clean space interdentally will the allow the fluoride in the toothpaste to get in-between the teeth, helping protect those hard to reach interdental spaces against decay. Just remember – spit don’t rinse!

Abigail Pearsonwww.purityclinic.co.uk – GDC 259413 

In July 2018, the results of a clinical trial were published.  Conducted by a team from the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences state:

The results showed that flossing followed by brushing is preferred to brushing then flossing in order to reduce interdental plaque and increase fluoride concentration in interdental plaque

Within America it is the American Dental Association (ADA) that most look to for guidance, but unlike others who have made it clear you should floss before brushing, they suggest it doesn’t matter when.

In fact they say,

The most important thing about cleaning between your teeth is to do it.As long as you do a thorough job, it doesn’t matter when. Pick a time of day when you can devote an extra couple of minutes to your dental care.

This is an approach echoed by many others.

The New Health Guide write,

It simply doesn’t matter. Instead of worrying about when to floss, you should pay more attention to how to do it right. Your focus should be on doing a thorough job and you will get maximum benefits.

Lowry Dental state on their website,

Routine flossing and brushing are important, and their order does not really matter.

And dentist Michael Layton of Peace Arch Dental states,

There is no rule cast in stone that flossing should be performed before or after brushing your teeth…Flossing before or after brushing your teeth is a personal decision, according to research there is not a right or wrong way… The most important practice is to simply floss on a regular basis.

What our in-house dentist says,

When advising patients about flossing and interdental cleaning, I always inform them that interdental cleaning is most effective if it is done before brushing your teeth, before going to bed. That said, I am a realist and believe if you truly don’t feel you can commit to that, then the most important thing is to just get into a pattern of doing it once per day, regardless of time.

Dr Gemma WheelerIn-house dentist – GDC Number: 259369

How to floss

The exact approach you take to floss your teeth can vary slightly depending on the type of flossing product used and the size of the gaps between teeth.

When using regular dental floss, be that sting or tape, the approach to follow is as follows:

  • Step 1: Pull out and cut off the reel of floss about 6 inches (15cm)
  • Step 2: Wrap the ends around your two pointer fingers, and stretch it between them, so it is fairly taught, leaving about 2 inches between the two fingers.
  • Step 3: Gently position the floss in between teeth, flex the floss slightly so it cups around the edge of one tooth in an C like shape.  Move the floss up and down to get rid of plaque. Repeat this for the tooth on the other side of that same gap.
  • Step 4: Repeat this for the tooth on the other side of that same gap.
  • Step 5: Repeat this process for all teeth and gaps in the mouth.
  • Step 6: Dispose of the floss.

The following video gives a good representation on how to floss.

Whilst you are here, why not learn what is the best dental floss?

I haven’t spoken about them in this article, but interdental brushes are another option when it comes to cleaning in between the teeth.  Our guide to interdental brushes explains how you should use them and much more.

Conclusion

So as you can see there are valid arguments for and against.  But most dentists, irrespective of their personal preference would rather you just floss regularly and thoroughly regardless of whether that is before or after brushing.  

Too few of the population actually clean interdentally properly, thus whether you floss before or after brushing is of less importance to the overall oral health of communities around the world.

That said, if you can floss before brushing, you might get that extra seal of approval from your dentist.  Perhaps ask your own for their opinion and reasoning.

Your comments

What is your opinion on this subject?

Do you floss before or after brushing?

Jon Love

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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Leave a comment or question

2 thoughts on “Should you floss before or after brushing”

  1. Very informative article! I, however have a question. I lack fine motor control in one hand. Is it possible to somehow floss using only the functional hand?

    Reply
    • Hi Laura.

      I have not personally tried. I suspect it is, but potentially awkward. I would suggest, other interdental cleaning tools like interdental brushes, floss picks or a water flosser would be much easier.

      Reply
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