Should I Brush or Floss First?

Is it better to brush or floss first?
– Pauline A. via Facebook
Pauline, there are many differing theories on this.

Some argue that flossing should come first because, when flossing, plaque and bits of food are loosened and should be brushed away after you’ve finished flossing.

fluoride from the toothpaste will make better contact if food wedged in between the teeth is removed before brushing.

The argument for brushing first and then flossing is that brushing your teeth first removes the bulk of the plaque on the teeth. Flossing afterward forces the remaining bit of fluoride left on the teeth from brushing into the in-between spaces.

Here’s my opinion: As long as you’re asking this question, it means you’re doing both, and that’s what matters. The synergy between flossing and brushing (and not the order in which you do them) will lengthen your life, improve your cognitive abilities, and will keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.

Unfortunately, if people are going to do one or the other, they’re going to brush. Flossing tends to be thought of as secondary, maybe because we’ve been told since childhood the same phrase over and over, “Brush, then floss.”

Imagine staining only the front and back of a fence, but neglecting to paint the insides – sure, you’ve stained the front and back of the fence, but the insides are going to rot. The same goes with teeth – if you neglect to floss, you can still get cavities in between.

It’s a widespread myth that you can get away with brushing only. Flossing cleans out the parts of the teeth that the toothbrush cannot reach. Brushing without flossing can result in cavities, gum disease, and even heart disease.

So, whether you brush first or floss first is your preference! I recommend that you stick with whatever works for you so that you stay in the habit of always brushing and flossing.

Mark Burhenne DDS

About Mark Burhenne DDS

Mark Burhenne DDS

I'm Dr. Mark Burhenne, author of Ask the Dentist and a practicing family and cosmetic dentist. My mission is to help you heal your symptoms and take control of your oral health for a longer, healthier life. Read More »

Do you have an oral health question?

Submit your question to Dr. Mark Burhenne.

Get more actionable advice on how taking care of your mouth leads to a longer, healthier life – sent straight to your inbox:


  1. Anson says

    If I understand this correctly, both of the arguments above seem to suggest that it’s better to floss than brush?

  2. Jimmy says

    “Flossing tends to be thought of as secondary, maybe because we’ve been told since childhood the same phrase over and over, “Brush, then floss.”

    interesting theory but i’d bet its because flossing is a hassle and more time consuming than brushing.

    • ARR says

      Flossing is only more time consuming than brushing if you aren’t brushing correctly. If you brush long enough to remove all plaque, that takes quite a bit longer than the 1 minute or less to brush.

  3. Nhan says

    What is your opinion of water flossing? I used to have metal braces, and water flossing is very convenient, but it is also effective to remove food particles between the wires.

  4. Jonathan Wentworth says

    flossing is not really that bad or time consuming… Take it from someone who had to floss while wearing braces… Now THAT can be challenging at times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.