Why flossing is bad

For years, dentists have drilled the importance of flossing at least once a day into patients. But conflicting media reports have some questioning if flossing is truly essential or even harmful, and that you should perhaps only stick to brushing.

Critics point to things like tissue damage and infection risk. But what’s the real story – is flossing bad for your oral and overall health? And if you have concerns about flossing, what alternatives can you turn to?

While flossing undeniably holds a crucial place in maintaining oral hygiene, it’s important to consider some of the arguments that have been made against it. Let’s dive into it… 

Why flossing is bad

Potential Flossing Cons

Here are a few arguments made against flossing:

1. Gum Tissue Injury

One of the primary concerns raised against flossing is the risk of injuring gum tissue, especially when done roughly or aggressively. Flossing too hard can lead to pain, discomfort, and even swelling in the gums, potentially causing a negative experience.

2. Bleeding Gums and Bacteria Entry

Bleeding gums, a common occurrence for some individuals during flossing, has raised concerns. It’s argued that this bleeding could create an entry point for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. However, it’s essential to note that bleeding gums are often a sign of existing gum disease rather than solely a consequence of flossing.

3. Oral Bacteria Spread

Some critics suggest that flossing might inadvertently spread oral bacteria to other areas of the mouth. This concern arises from the movement of bacteria-laden plaque from one tooth to another during the flossing process.

4. Floss Breakage and Lodging

When not performed carefully, floss can break and potentially become lodged between teeth. This scenario can be uncomfortable and challenging to resolve without professional assistance.

5. Dexterity Challenges

Flossing can be particularly challenging for individuals with dexterity issues, such as arthritis or limited hand mobility. The intricate nature of flossing can make it difficult for some to perform effectively.

6. Minimal Additional Benefits

Certain systematic reviews have suggested that the additional benefits of flossing over and above regular brushing alone may be minimal. While flossing undoubtedly removes plaque and debris from between teeth, the extent to which this contributes to improved oral health has been a subject of debate.

7. Lack of Strong Evidence in Dietary Guidelines

In 2016, the U.S. government dietary guidelines removed the recommendation for flossing due to the perceived lack of strong scientific evidence supporting its efficacy. This move raised questions about the long-standing endorsement of flossing by health authorities.

However, these potential cons require deeper analysis for context:

Examining the Evidence: Is Flossing Really Bad?

The scientific community has extensively explored the risks and rewards associated with flossing, providing valuable insights that help us make informed decisions about our oral hygiene practices.

Let’s delve into what the research actually indicates:

1. Combined brushing and flossing is key for enhanced gum health

Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that the most significant improvements in gum health occur when brushing is complemented by flossing. Flossing plays a pivotal role in reducing gingivitis and removing plaque from areas that brushing alone might not effectively reach.

2. Tissue irritation is temporary

While it’s true that some individuals may experience temporary tissue irritation or bleeding when they first start flossing, it’s essential to view this as a positive sign of improvement. This initial discomfort often subsides with regular flossing, contributing to enhanced gum health over time.

3. Proper technique minimizes risks

The key to mitigating any potential risks associated with flossing lies in mastering proper technique. Flossing should follow the contours of your teeth, employing a gentle touch to avoid tissue injury. When executed correctly, flossing becomes a safe and effective method for maintaining oral health.

4.Dentist recommendations

It’s noteworthy that the overwhelming consensus among dental professionals is to continue recommending flossing. Dentists recognize the substantial benefits of flossing, especially in terms of plaque removal and gum health improvement. While the scientific support may not be as vigorous as some might expect, accepted best practices in dentistry often rely on decades of practical experience.

5.Unmatched cleaning of interdental spaces

Flossing remains the only method proven to clean the critical 40% of tooth surfaces located between teeth. This is a particularly vulnerable area where plaque buildup can lead to various dental issues, emphasizing the irreplaceable role of flossing.

6.Scientific support vs. best practices

It’s essential to clarify that the absence of robust scientific support for flossing does not imply that it has no role in oral health. Dentistry, like many fields, relies on a combination of scientific evidence and established best practices that have proven effective over time. While further research may refine our understanding of flossing’s precise impact, its benefits in maintaining healthy gums and teeth are well-documented in practical dental care.

Overall, the vast body of evidence indicates flossing benefits still outweigh any described risks when practiced properly.

Should You Keep Flossing?

Given the overwhelming data on plaque and inflammation reduction, professional dental associations continue firmly recommending daily flossing. Combined with brushing, flossing remains one of the best methods for preventing gingivitis, cavities between teeth, and periodontal disease. Doing something is usually better than nothing.

However, flossing should not feel painful. Custom options like floss picks can help those with dexterity issues. And not everyone needs to aim for daily flossing. Discuss any concerns with your dentist and they can tailor recommendations to your needs.

But avoiding flossing altogether comes with significant oral health risks that likely outweigh any potential harms.

So continue taking advantage of flossing’s unique cleaning benefits. Just be sure to use proper technique. When performed carefully and consistently, flossing safely optimizes the health of your mouth, gums, and teeth.

Alternative to Dental Floss: Intraoral swishing with water

While dental floss remains a tried-and-true method for interdental cleaning, it’s important to acknowledge that it might not be suitable for everyone.

Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to maintaining oral hygiene:

1.Intraoral swishing

This involves rinsing your mouth with water after meals, and it has gained recognition as an effective alternative or complement to traditional dental flossing. Swishing water vigorously in your mouth, particularly after eating, can help dislodge food particles, dead cells, and mucous that might accumulate in your oral cavity. This not only contributes to a cleaner mouth but also helps eliminate potential sources of bad breath.

One of the key advantages of intraoral swishing with water is its accessibility and convenience. It’s a practice that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine, whether you’re at home or on the go.

2.Oral Irrigation and Water Flossers

For those seeking a more advanced alternative, oral irrigation devices like water flossers have become increasingly popular. These devices use a targeted stream of water to clean between teeth and along the gumline. They are considered an alternative to both manual tooth brushing and traditional dental flossing.

Studies have suggested that oral irrigation, as performed by water flossers, can be an effective means of reducing bleeding and gingival inflammation. This is particularly valuable for individuals with sensitive gums or those who may find traditional flossing uncomfortable.


Intraoral swishing with water and water flossers can be particularly beneficial for individuals who may have difficulty using traditional dental floss. This includes those with dexterity issues, braces, or dental work that makes flossing challenging.

It’s important to note that while water swishing can be a valuable addition to your oral hygiene routine, it may not entirely replace the need for brushing and other essential practices. Ideally, it should complement these efforts to ensure comprehensive dental care.

Final Thoughts

Any potential cons of flossing should be viewed within a balanced perspective. While the concerns discussed above exist, they should not overshadow the numerous benefits of flossing.

Moreover, science indicates that flossing, when performed correctly and as part of a comprehensive oral hygiene routine, offers substantial rewards for gum health and plaque removal. The perceived risks, such as temporary tissue irritation, are often outweighed by the long-term benefits.

Dentists continue to endorse flossing as a vital tool for oral health, recognizing its irreplaceable role in cleaning those hard-to-reach interdental spaces. As with any aspect of healthcare, individual needs and professional guidance should shape one’s approach to flossing for optimal oral hygiene.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

  • Lilly

    Lilly, aka, Liza Lee, is a passionate community oral health officer and our lead writer. She's not only well-versed in performing a multitude of dental procedures, including preventive, restorative, and cosmetic, but also an avid writer. Driven by the significant oral health burden all around her, Lilly strives to build capacity and promote oral health. She envisions making a lasting impact by advancing research, prevention, and promotion efforts to alleviate oral health disparities. Please share your views and opinions on my posts.

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