Should we floss before or after brushing our teeth?

Emma Elliott

Taking good care of your teeth is very important, but how should we look after them? Most of us know we should be brushing for two minutes twice a day every day, but a lot of people are unsure about when or how to floss or why we’re supposed to be doing it. Lots of bacteria live in our mouth and call it their home, these bacteria and the products they make are often referred to as dental ‘plaque’. Bacteria like to eat our food and too much of certain types of food allow them to grow out of control, letting them cause problems like tooth decay and gum disease. This is why dentists are so obsessed with limiting the amount of sugar we eat – sugar is a nice easy food source for these bacteria to munch on.


It’s really important that we clean our teeth well to give them a protective fluoride boost whilst also controlling and removing these bacteria. Fluoride is a major component of toothpaste and actually strengthens the teeth to make them more resistant to the problems these bacteria can cause. However, brushing alone does not get rid of all the bacteria! Your teeth are neighbours with each other and the areas where they meet cannot be cleaned by the large bristles of a toothbrush. Shockingly, these neighbouring borders make up 40% of the surface area of your teeth, so if you don’t floss once a day almost half of your mouth is going uncleaned.


So now we know why we need to floss, but when do we floss and how do we do it? Flossing should always be done once a day before you brush. Flossing your teeth before you brush them actually makes a lot of sense – cleaning in between your teeth can release trapped food, shift plaque and move bacteria and then you want to brush all that debris away. If you flossed after you had already brushed, all the debris you’d shifted would hang around on the rest of your teeth until you cleaned them again. So, the correct order is to floss and then to brush your teeth for two minutes.


The problem with flossing is that it can be quite tricky to do correctly – you are trying to reach the areas of teeth that your brush can’t reach, so you need a good technique. First, wrap the floss around your middle fingers and use your first fingers to manipulate the floss between the teeth. You should then gently rub the floss alongside the side of one tooth and then the other, being careful and gentle around the gums. The last tooth in your mouth is a bit lonely and only has one neighbour, but you should still floss behind it as its really difficult for your brush to reach that area. Now you’re armed with the correct knowledge – happy flossing!