Can You Floss Too Much? - University General Dentists (2023)

Any general dentist will tell you, flossing incorrectly can irritate gums and cause gum recession. But skipping the floss takes an essential element out of oral hygiene. It’s a low-risk, easy habit that prevents one of the most serious oral health issues:periodontal disease. We put together the best guidance about flossing to help you understand how much flossing is just enough and how to floss for maximum benefit.

What the research says about flossing

Back in 2016, the American Academy of Periodontology acknowledged that the research supporting daily flossing was weak because of lack of participants or long-term studies. A review of 12 randomized controlled trials published inThe Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviewsin 2011 found only “very unreliable” evidence that flossing reduces plaque after three months, and researchers could not find any studies examining if the combination of flossing and brushing prevents cavities.

Many Americans took that news as free reign to let go of the guilt surrounding not flossing their teeth. However, it’s important to understand that 1) most people do not floss properly and 2) severeperiodontal diseasemay take five to 20 years to develop. Once it does, patients might need special cleaning treatments or even surgery. General dentists advise that periodontal disease is easily preventable with proper dental hygiene.

What your dentist says about flossing

Dental plaque causes periodontal disease, otherwise known as gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss if untreated. Despite it being the first question almost every dentist asks during a patient visit,nearly a third of Americans do not floss their teeth every day. Almosthalf of Americans say they exaggerateto their dentist about how much they floss.

The American Dental Association has long stated that flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums, and dentists are confident that breaking up bacteria and plaque through brushing and flossing protects your teeth and gums. We know because flossing reduces the risk ofgingivitis, which is usually the first step to periodontal disease.

How Often to Floss

Plaque-creating bacteria take 4-12 hours to develop. So, flossing more than once a day really has no benefits unless you have something stuck in your teeth. Dentists warn that flossing more than once a day can cause serious damage to your gum tissue—if you are flossing the wrong way. Flossing too harshly too often can harm the gum line and expose more of your tooth’s root. That’s not only painful, it also creates an opening for bacteria to creep in and cause cavities or decay.

Common Flossing Mistakes

Flossing Your Gums Instead of Your Teeth

Flossing is supposed to rub plaque off the hard-to-reach crevices between teeth. The purpose is to move plaque away from your gums, not into them. Dentists say you should always pull away from the gums when flossing: for upper teeth pull down with each stroke and lower teeth pull up. If you feel pressure on your gums or they turn white while you’re flossing, you’re causing yourself more harm than good.

Flossing Too Roughly

Flossing too roughly can damage your gums or even cause gingival clefts. Never ‘saw’ at the base of the tooth as this just causes friction on your gums and can wear down tooth enamel. Dentists also say to avoid ‘snapping’ the floss between your teeth, which puts pressure on your gums and can cause them to recede. To get the floss between two tightly packed teeth, try working it back and forth while applying pressure.

Not Flossing around the Entire Tooth

So far, it sounds like the best way to floss your teeth is to simply slide the floss down and pull it back up. That’s only half the job. To make sure you get the entire tooth, you need to floss between it and each of its adjacent teeth. Otherwise, bacteria can easily accumulate and start a cavity on the unflossed side, making all your work for naught. The dentists’ pro tip is to create a C-shape with the floss, so you rub the entire side of the tooth at once.

Flossing After Brushing Your Teeth

Flossing removes plaque from its favorite places on your teeth much better than brushing. Also, toothpaste’s main purpose is to apply fluoride to teeth. If you’ve already removed the plaque between your teeth when you brush, the fluoride can adhere smoothly. Another dentist pro tip: floss just before bed to remove any remnants of food as well as resetting the bacteria clock when your teeth and gums are most vulnerable.

Not Using the Right Type of Floss

The righttype of flossfor you depends on the amount of space between your teeth. Waxed floss works best in tight spaces and dental tape—which is wider and flatter—helps cover larger spaces between teeth. Dentists recommend specialty tools like a floss threader or soft picks if you have a bridge or permanent retainer. People with sensitive gums can also try awater flosser.

Using the Same Section of Floss Between All of Your Teeth

If you are using the same section of the same piece of floss between all of your teeth, you’re essentially just spreading bacteria from one crevice to another. The friction of flossing and brushing after flossing helps to break up plaque, but dentists say simply winding the floss a bit as you work up the line of teeth can combat the risk of bacteria transport.

Quitting When Your Gums Bleed

In light of all the warnings about over flossing and flossing too harshly, it seems logical that blood would be a sure sign to back off. Dentists actually say that usually your gums bleed when you floss if you haven’t been flossing consistently. Your body sends extra blood to your gums to fight the plaque that’s collected there, which makes them inflamed and more sensitive. If this is occurring, you’ve already developed gingivitis, the first step on the road to gum disease. Dentists advise that rather than being a sign to stop flossing, bleeding gums should be a sign that you need to floss more consistently the right way.

How to Floss in 5 Easy Steps

After all those wrong ways to floss, let’s make proper flossing simple. Here are five easy steps to get it right, every day.

Step 1:Spool out about 18 inches of floss.

Step 2:Wind the floss around your thumb and pointer on each hand until you have about a two-inch section of floss between your fingers.

Step 3:Gently slide the section of floss between your teeth, rocking a slight pressure back and forth for tight spaces.

Step 4:Curve the floss into a C-shape around each tooth and slide it along the side of the tooth away from the gumline.

Step 5:Before flossing the next tooth, wind the floss more tightly in one hand while loosening it in the other, so you approach the next tooth with a fresh section of floss.

Lastly, make sure you visit your general dentist every few months for a professional cleaning. Dentists and dental hygienists will be able to spot any problems with your flossing quickly with regular visits and help you avoid receding gums, gingivitis or the eventual risk of gum disease. University General Dentists has some expertise in this area, with more than 30 years of experience and a long history of training the next generation of dentists. Schedule an appointment at our UT office at 865-305-9440 or at our West Knoxville office at 865-500-5700.


Can You Floss Too Much? - University General Dentists? ›

How Often to Floss. Plaque-creating bacteria take 4-12 hours to develop. So, flossing more than once a day really has no benefits unless you have something stuck in your teeth. Dentists warn that flossing more than once a day can cause serious damage to your gum tissue—if you are flossing the wrong way.

How much flossing is too much flossing? ›

Plaque takes about 24-48 hours to harden, so if you floss more than once a day, you aren't actually fighting it any more effectively. If there's something stuck between your teeth, it's okay to floss to get it out, but if you start getting obsessive about flossing and floss 2+ times a day, you do more harm than good.

What happens when you floss too much? ›

Flossing Multiple Times Per Day – Flossing more than once or twice a day can increase damage done to your gum tissue. As the gums recede, the roots of the tooth can be exposed, which will cause damage and tooth sensitivity. For best results, floss gently and only once or twice a day.

How do I know if my dentist is doing unnecessary work? ›

A dental office that takes X-rays without knowing your oral health is not adhering to the ALARA principle. A dentist that takes extensive X-rays without reviewing your dental health and history does not have your well-being top of mind and is likely to perform other unnecessary dental procedures.

How many times do dentists recommend flossing? ›

That's why the American Dental Association recommends you floss once a day to remove food particles and plaque – the sticky film on your teeth that can lead to cavities and gum disease. Plaque contains cavity-causing bacteria that feed on leftover food in your mouth.

Is it OK to floss multiple times a day? ›

No, you can't floss too much unless you're flossing incorrectly. If you apply too much pressure when you floss, or if you floss too vigorously, you may damage your teeth and gums. You may need to floss more than once a day, especially after meals, to clean out food or debris that's stuck between your teeth.

Is brushing and flossing 3 times a day too much? ›

Twice is enough for most people, but three times won't hurt!

We recommend brushing your teeth at least twice a day: once in the morning (i.e. around 30 minutes after breakfast), and once before bed! But if you want to go for three, that's no issue, just as long as you don't brush too hard or too soon after eating!

Is it bad to floss 5 times a day? ›

How Often to Floss. Plaque-creating bacteria take 4-12 hours to develop. So, flossing more than once a day really has no benefits unless you have something stuck in your teeth. Dentists warn that flossing more than once a day can cause serious damage to your gum tissue—if you are flossing the wrong way.

Is using a Waterpik better than flossing? ›

The American Dental Association says water flossers with the ADA Seal of Acceptance can get rid of plaque. That's the film that turns into tartar and leads to cavities and gum disease. But some studies find water flossers don't remove plaque as well as traditional floss.

Can Waterpik cause gum recession? ›

While water flossers are generally considered safe for most people, there is some evidence to suggest that overuse or incorrect use can lead to gum damage. On the other hand, water flossers have been shown to improve gum health by removing plaque and reducing the risk of gum disease.

What are the most common dentist mistakes? ›

Common dental mistakes include removing too much tooth structure or filling a cavity on the wrong tooth. Mistakes that can be made during a dental procedure include removing too much tooth structure or filling a cavity with too much material.

What do dentists struggle with the most? ›

One of the many problems in the dental industry you'll face is finding new patients. Even if you've managed to overcome the financial issues inherent to opening a new dental practice, finding new patients is one challenge that requires dedication, a productive team and serious networking.

Can a dentist tell if you floss regularly? ›

If you're not flossing regularly, your dentist will likely be able to tell by looking at your teeth and gums. They may also ask you questions about your oral care routine to better understand how often you're actually flossing.

Can you over floss your gums? ›

The Truth About Over-Flossing

The increased surface area and baring of sensitive tissues can make you more susceptible to developing gum disease, even if you're brushing and flossing regularly. Advanced gum disease will eventually cause bone loss in the jaw, so overly vigorous flossing can be a real problem.

Should you floss at night or in the morning? ›

The best time to floss is when you have time to floss properly. For many people, this means flossing at night before bed. This may also prevent food particles from remaining in your teeth overnight, which will reduce possible damage from bacteria. Flossing regularly is vital to maintain proper oral health.

How do you know if you're flossing too deep? ›

If you are flossing to the point you are making your gums bleed, you are causing damage to the gums. If you aren't flossing on a regular basis, it's common to experience some bleeding for seven to ten days. Further bleeding beyond that time can be either a sign of gum disease or you are flossing too hard.

How far should floss go into your gums? ›

You ought to do this delicately as opposed to being excessively forceful, or you'll end up with bleeding or harming your gums. After you slide the floss between your teeth, you should bend it around the tooth and let it plunge beneath the gum line (in a perfect world, it should plunge around 2 – 3 millimeters down).

How far up gums should floss go? ›

Take complete advantage of the pliability and thin structure of floss by allowing it to ascend 2-3 millimeters below your gum line. This helps to remove bacteria that could contribute to gum disease and compromise your tooth health.

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