Should You Floss Before or After Brushing?

Mother and young son smile in the mirror while flossing teeth.

Everyone has been there once or twice: You are reclining in the dentist chair when they ask, “How often do you brush and floss your teeth?” Even if you keep up with a pristine dental hygiene routine, you may worry that you aren’t tending to your teeth as much as you should, or you might even have some questions for the dentist yourself. You want to keep your teeth in tip-top shape, so this is the perfect time to ask: Should you floss before or after brushing? While doing both is great, the order in which you perform these daily tasks could impact just how strong your teeth remain. Read on to learn more about brushing, flossing, and whether you should brush or floss first—so you won’t have to ask on your next dentist visit.

The Importance of Brushing and Flossing

Brushing your teeth is an essential means to remove food and plaque that stick to your teeth. 1 The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time using a fluoride (a mineral that fights cavities and tooth decay) toothpaste, such as one of Sensodyne’s toothpastes. 1 This helps prevent plaque from building up, lessening the potential for plaque to cause a breakdown in the tooth enamel (leading to potential cavities) or for tartar to form and build up (which makes teeth harder to clean and can cause gum inflammation and even gum disease). 1

Flossing or using an interdental cleaner (such as interdental brushes, floss picks, or water flossers) daily is also heavily recommended by the ADA to further heighten oral health and lessen the risks of cavities and gum disease. Cleaning between your teeth once a day removes plaque from surfaces of the teeth and the gum line that toothbrushes can’t reach and clears out debris that can cause plaque buildup.2

The Age-Old Question: Should You Floss Before or After Brushing?

Flossing and brushing work in tandem to keep your teeth clean, keep plaque at bay, and, of course, keep your breath smelling fresh. So, does it really matter which you do first? The short answer: It does.

While it may be surprising, a study has found that flossing first followed by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste is more effective in removing interdental plaque than brushing first, flossing second.3 In addition, flossing before brushing results in greater fluoride retention between teeth.3 This is because flossing loosens the bacteria, plaque, and other residue between teeth. When followed by brushing and rinsing with water, more particles are flushed out from those hard-to-reach interdental spaces.3,4

How to Make Flossing First Part of Your Routine

For many, a tooth-brushing session first thing in the morning and last thing before hopping into bed at night is second nature. However, adding flossing to a daily routine hasn’t caught on for a majority of Americans. In fact, a survey from the ADA found just 16% of respondents floss at least once a day, 20% said they floss only when they need to or if something is stuck in their teeth, and 8% said they never floss.5 Of those who don’t floss daily, more than half said their reasoning is because they find that the task is too time consuming.5

While it may add an extra step to your oral hygiene routine, when you brush and floss, you can keep your mouth cleaner and provide your teeth extra protection from decay.

To get in the habit of flossing, choose a time you’ll do it daily, whether that’s in the morning, after lunch, or at night. This is all about personal preference: You might prefer heading into the day with a freshly flossed mouth, keeping your teeth clean after lunch, or going to bed post-floss and brush.

Keep your floss right next to your toothpaste and toothbrush and make sure it is visible. Having it out can help serve as a reminder to not skip the step. Then, floss every day before you brush for at least one week. Once you’ve made it a week, set a goal to keep it up for one more. Soon enough, you won’t even have to think about it anymore.

Never Wonder if You Should Floss or Brush First Again

Whether you’ve been a long-time flosser or are just beginning to make interdental cleaning a part of your daily dental regimen, it’s never too late to feel confident and assured about the order in which you perform these tasks. By flossing before you brush, you can amplify the benefits of removing plaque, food bits, and bacteria that are hard to reach by brushing alone, while also retaining more fluoride.3 By using Sensodyne toothpaste all the while, help protect against tooth sensitivity and help keep your teeth strong for your next dental check-up.*

*with twice daily brushing

Source Citations:

  1. When and how often should you brush your teeth? Mayo Clinic. Accessed 7/14/21.
  2. Federal Government, ADA Emphasize Importance of Flossing and Interdental Cleaners. American Dental Association. Accessed 7/14/21.
  3. Should You Brush or Floss First? New Study Suggests the Ideal Sequence for Removing Plaque. American Academy of Periodontology. Accessed 7/14/21.
  4. The effect of tooth brushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention. Accessed 11/16/21.
  5. New survey highlights ‘unusual’ flossing habits. American Dental Association. Accessed 7/14/21.