Friday, June 25, 2010

Flossing Frequency?

Dr. T.,*

After many years of very average dental hygiene and barely any flossing, something finally "clicked" for me after getting 6 fillings recently. I have finally changed my ways and become fairly fanatical about tooth cleanliness. I keep a toothbrush and floss in my desk drawer at work, and I find that after every meal, I feel an urgent need to floss and brush, in order to remove all debris and have a clean mouth again. it's kind of like the instinct to wash your hands after digging in the dirt.

I have now got a routine in which I brush and floss at 10am (to clear breakfast debris), then again at 2pm (to clear lunch debris) and after dinner (8pm). My question is do you feel this is too much flossing? I have gaps between my teeth that are just large enough to keep debris between them, so I know you are supposed to floss once a day. But I have this huge urge to get that debris out soon after eating. What do you suggest?

Best wishes,

3x a day flosser in NC


Thanks for your question!

I have to start off by saying that I am also a 3x a day flosser, so you have an idea where this is going.

Here’s the the basic question that we need to consider: Will flossing 3x a day harm your teeth and what problems could it cause?

All those readers with tight teeth could probably go read elsewhere at this point, since they have no idea how annoying it is to have a substantial part of a meal stuck between your teeth after eating. Of course, as you’ve described, they also don’t understand how satisfying it is to get that jammed food out from between teeth with floss. As I’ve said before, tight teeth don’t catch much food and they don’t have much room for floss. Those “tight” teeth still need a periodic cleaning with a non-shredding floss, since bacteria and plaque buildup can happen even in the small spaces between the tightest teeth.

Let’s keep this brief – too much flossing really isn’t a problem, but “improper” flossing can erode enamel.

What is “improper” flossing?

Well, floss can serve two useful roles:

1. Removing large pieces of food stuck between teeth, and

2. Cleaning food residues from spaces between teeth where brushing won’t reach.

“Improper” flossing involves pointless rubbing floss against the enamel. This is why you’ll hear warnings about “don’t saw back and forth” with floss.

How do we know that “sawing” with floss will hurt enamel? Well, you can check these links for two examples (and there are others) of prisoners using floss to saw through metal bars to escape (1,2). Let’s face it, if sawing with floss can cut metal, the enamel on your teeth can get “groovy” with too much sawing. The grooves you can cause with floss might be a cosmetic problem, but more important is the damage they do to surface enamel and the spaces they make for decay-producing bacteria.

You might also be interested to learn that there are a few anthropology studies that report finding grooves on the teeth of ancient skeletons that suggest damage from repeated rubbing with fibers (ie. floss). One report is based on skeletons from Pakistan (3) and the other from the prehistoric natives in the western US (4) – so this isn’t a rare or localized misuse of floss.

What to do? Clean the big pellets of food from between your teeth when they bother you. A short forward or back motion may be needed to dislodge debris – but no sawing! To clean the spaces between teeth, pull the floss up and down along the teeth. This up and down cleaning between all your teeth isn’t the type of flossing you need to do very often. Once a day for this type of thorough flossing will be fine to keep your teeth really clean.

Thanks again for your question!

Floss on!

Chip T.*

(Dr. Chip Tartaroff answers flossing questions for the National Flossing Council. See his past replys on



1. Inmate used dental floss to escape cell

Associated Press, Tuesday, 21 March 2000

2. Inmate uses dental floss, toothpaste to escape prison

By Associated Press, 04/25/02

Ancient floss damage

3. Activity-induced patterns of dental abrasion in prehistoric Pakistan: Evidence from Mehrgarh and Harappa

John R. Lukacs, Robert F. Pastor

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Volume 76 , Issue 3 , Pages 377 - 398, 1988.

4. Task activity and anterior tooth grooving in prehistoric California Indians

Peter D. Schulz

Division of Resource Management and Protection, California Department of Parks and Recreation, P.O. Box 2390, Sacramento, California 95811

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Volume 46 Issue 1, Pages 87 – 91, 1977.

Published Online: 29 Apr 2005


  1. I appreciate your insight about Dental Floss, it's extremely educational and more depicted points of interest.

  2. An easy and effective way to remove plaque around dental braces and improve gum health is to use a Gurin Water Flosser with the Orthodontic Tip. It is clinically proven more effective than dental floss for people with braces. Learn more about how to floss with braces using a Gurin water flosser.