Forget flossing: four alternative ways to keep your teeth healthy

Each time I go to the dentist I am always asked the same question “Are you flossing regularly?” I sheepishly reply that I don’t do it as often as I should. Fact is I hardly ever floss! Don’t know about you but I find it a real chore. So I read this news with interest…

Forget flossing: four alternative ways to keep your teeth healthy

alternative ways to keep your teeth healthy
Healthy teeth, big smile. Photograph: Sunny/Getty Images

“Brush and floss or prepare for loss.” It’s a mantra that has seen many a bathroom bin transformed into a sticky snake pit of discarded threads. But an investigation by the Associated Press now suggests our dentists may have been stringing us along. Freedom of Information requests to the US Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for the evidence underpinning its recommendation for daily flossing have prompted the organization to quietly drop this advice. Public Health England has also said that it will be reviewing its own guidance on flossing in the New Year. So if dental floss is now dross, what else can we do to keep our mouths healthy?


Here are four alternatives.

Invest in inter-dental brushes

The evidence for inter-dental brushes reducing gum disease is slightly stronger than for dental floss, though still weak. And some people struggle to fit even the smallest size of inter-dental brush between their teeth because they’re packed so closely together. But in spite of the lack of strong evidence,it is worth trying to get something in there, says the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy. “Tooth brushing alone cleans only three of the five surfaces of our teeth, so cleaning between our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene as it helps to prevent gum disease by removing plaque from any areas missed by brushing alone,” says Michaela O’Neill, president of the BSDHT.

Try using “water-picks”

If you can’t squeeze a brush in there, how about a high-pressure jet of water to dislodge the plaque? So-called water picks are an alternative to inter-dental brushes. “They’re an expensive option, and I’m not sure the evidence has been shown for those,” says Derek Richards, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Dentistry at the University of Dundee. However, the same basic principle of dislodging bacteria from between your teeth applies. One thing to bear in mind is that it will rinse away the fluoride in toothpaste that strengthens your teeth, so if you are going to squirt, do it before brushing, not afterwards.