Brushing is the most important part of oral hygiene, but flossing comes in a close second. Using floss to get between your teeth can remove plaque buildup and trapped food particles that your toothbrush can’t reach.
There are two things you can use, to floss: a traditional spool of dental floss, or a floss pick. Both feature a thin filament of fiber, coated in wax so that it slides more easily between your teeth. But which cleans your teeth more effectively? Is there really any difference?
Regular dental floss has a longer history of use than floss picks. It’s great at removing bacteria between your teeth, where toothbrush bristles can’t penetrate. These bacteria excrete lactic acid as a byproduct of their anaerobic or facultative anaerobic respiration. As plaque builds up — and plaque is basically a biomat composed of various bacteria — oxygen doesn’t penetrate the deeper layers, which respire without oxygen. The acidic byproducts demineralize the enamel in your teeth, causing dental caries (cavities). Floss removes this bacteria. Flossing can also help prevent gum disease, making it an important part of your oral care routine.
Many flosses and floss picks contain an anticoagulant, which prevents the bleeding during flossing that’s common in people with mild gingivitis or more advanced gum disease. Antimicrobial compounds or tartar control agents may also be present.
Floss picks are individual, disposable pieces of plastic that hold a small length of floss. Many people prefer them over regular dental floss. They’re easier to use, especially when reaching into the back of your mouth. Like regular floss, they’re also effective at removing food and bacteria.
Studies have been conducted to compare the effectiveness of floss picks and regular dental floss. Most have found that both are effective when used regularly and correctly. In one study examining their impact on gum health, researchers found that both, the floss group and the floss pick group had similarly reduced plaque scores. No significant difference between the two was found.
Use What Works Best for You
There is a body of clinical literature that examines the effectiveness of floss picks vs. regular dental floss, although not many studies have been done. However, the research that’s been performed so far has concluded that there’s no real difference in effectiveness between the two. This means that what’s really important is that you floss at all, not which tool you use to do so.
Some people find floss picks much easier to use, while others prefer plain old dental floss. It doesn’t really matter which one you use, as long as you floss every day.
Another alternative is to use an interdental brush. These small, single-bristled brushes are designed to remove material between your teeth, just like floss and floss picks. When used every day, they’ve been found to be effective at removing plaque. They’re also reusable, unlike floss or floss picks. However, as the linked study notes, motivation was the most important factor. To improve their dental health, study participants needed to be motivated to floss every day, regardless of what device they used to do it.
Flossing is Important — No Matter What You Use
No matter what product you use to clean between your teeth — whether you prefer dental floss, floss picks, or an interdental brush — what’s really important is that you clean between your teeth every day. While brushing twice a day is recommended, you only really need to floss once. Daily flossing makes a big difference in your oral health and prevents plaque buildup that might otherwise damage your enamel.
You can use floss, a floss pick, or an interdental brush. But whichever one you choose, you need to use it every day.