Every day, in every dental office across America, the question, “Should I brush or floss first?” is asked of a dental professional. The fact that the question is asked means the patient understands the importance of doing both on a regular basis, so, for the dentist, this is already a win for the patient’s oral health. The truth is, as long as the patient is doing both, there is no wrong answer to this particular question.
Just for the sake of argument we will take a look at the reasoning behind both positions, and see if either strikes us as obviously superior to the other. After all, optimal oral health is the goal here, and looking at the benefits of each will enable us to make a more-informed choice for ourselves.
Brushing is traditionally the starting point of any good oral hygiene regimen. It is taught to us this way as children, so it is only natural that we continue that way throughout our lives. Brushing first acts to break up the plaque found on and between our teeth. It also spreads a film of fluoride from toothpaste onto the surfaces of our teeth. When we floss afterward, we distribute this fluoride residue into the spaces between teeth where a brush has difficulty reaching. The floss also acts to wipe away the loosened plaque on the teeth, so in this sequence they do an optimal job in all areas.
Flossing before you brush, though less commonly practiced, is just as effective at keeping your teeth healthy and clean as the traditional method. By flossing first, you break up food particles that can then be more easily cleaned away by your brush. The clearing of debris between teeth allows for greater fluoride penetration when you brush, and the breath-fresheners in the toothpaste will be more effective with more room to work. We all learn to “brush our teeth and go to bed” too, so flossing before brushing could keep you from forgetting.
Whichever way you choose to go, brush first or floss first, most dentists will tell you that you are absolutely right. This is one of those great questions in life with no wrong answer, so keep on brushing and flossing in whatever order you like, and remember to see your dentist every six months for a checkup!