Flossing is the worst, but you can’t keep your teeth healthy without it

Quick notes

  • Cleaning in between your teeth is an important part of dental hygiene, but flossing isn’t your only option

  • Instead of flossing, try using an oral irrigator, interdental brush, toothpick, or floss pick

  • Whatever flossing option you choose, make it a consistent part of your cleaning routine

Does anyone floss as much as they’re supposed to?

You’re in the dentist’s office. You take a seat in the examination chair and the hygienist smiles with her picture-perfect teeth as she asks the question you’ve been dreading ever since you pulled into the parking lot: have you been flossing?

Even though flossing is a pain (figuratively and sometimes even literally), the American Dental Association (ADA) still recommends that adults floss every single day to help them avoid tooth decay and other serious oral health issues. Flossing cleans out all the spaces between your teeth that regular brushing can’t reach, ensuring that cavities aren’t silently developing in unseen areas of your mouth.

That being said, flossing isn’t the only chore that can accomplish this lofty cleaning goal. There are all sorts of other cleaning options (called “interdental cleaners”) you can use to effectively clean those hard-to-reach spaces between your teeth and along your gumlines. To make sure you’re really doing what’s best for your unique set of chompers, talk to your dentist about the interdental cleaner option that is best for you. But until you’re sitting in that chair, try some of these tips and techniques so your teeth are cavity-free even on the nights you skip the floss.

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The best options for the floss hater

Whether you’re a mostly regular flosser who occasionally misses a Monday or a full-blown floss fearer, dentists say it’s important to get those gums stimulated and the spaces between your teeth cleaned every single day. The options that follow are professional-approved, easy-to-use tooth-cleaning options that just might revolutionize your dental hygiene routine.

Oral irrigators

Despite the fancy name, the concept of the oral irrigator is pretty simple. It’s a small machine, about the size of an electric toothbrush, that shoots out a powerful stream of water when in use. The goal of an oral irrigator is to use the power of water to clean out the areas between your teeth and the spaces where your teeth meet your gums; it’s simple yet powerfully cleansing.

While oral irrigators can take some getting used to (be prepared to spray water all over your bathroom the first couple of tries), they take less work than traditional floss.

Interdental brushes

These little guys are the traditional toothbrush’s little brothers. Interdental brushes are small enough to fit between teeth and clean every corner of your mouth, and they’re still easier to use than strings of floss. If you have especially tight teeth, this might not be the option for you, though.

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Toothpicks

Think toothpicks are just for old men who hang out in diners? Think again. The ADA has actually recommended some toothpicks for general oral hygiene, but make sure your chosen pack has the magic ADA seal to make sure they will actually be effective. You might also want to do some research into your toothpick of choice and your particular dental concerns; according to a Cochrane report, not all ADA-approved toothpicks effectively target the same problems.

Floss picks

Floss picks are like floss on a stick. These disposable flossers are much easier to use than the traditional floss you have to string between your fingers, and, according to dentists, are just as effective. You can get a toothbrush-sized floss stick with replaceable heads, travel-sized floss picks that combine floss and toothpicks, or floss picks angled to reach the deepest areas of even the biggest mouth.

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Is flossing really that important?

The bad news? Yes, flossing is an incredibly important part of daily oral hygiene and one of the best ways to avoid serious oral disease. The good news? You don’t have to cut off the circulation in your fingers or make your gums bleed to reap the benefits of flossing. Whatever flossing option you choose, from using floss on a stick to replacing your floss with a steady stream of water, do it every day. And just think: next time you see your hygienist, you won’t have to lie.

A deeper dive: Related reading on the 101

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Good health requires more than just keeping your mouth healthy. Learn how to keep your whole body in tip-top shape.