How Bad Is Not Flossing?

I haven’t flossed for years now and I still have my teeth and no pain. So how bad is not flossing, really?

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Q: Dr. Burhenne, how bad is not flossing? I brush twice a day, my gums don't bleed, and my teeth are healthy. I haven’t flossed for years now and I still have my teeth and no pain. How bad is it really?

A: A lot of people wonder if flossing is even necessary, especially if you can’t see any food stuck in between your teeth.

Before we get into the answer, let me first ask you this: how bad is it not to vacuum underneath your bed, even if you’re cleaning the rest of your room?

As you read this, colonies of bacteria are setting up camp and reproducing in between your teeth and underneath where your gums meet your teeth — these are the spots where a toothbrush can’t reach.

Even if you can’t see any gunk between your teeth, the bacteria are still there — they’re microscopic and invisible to the human eye.

Every day that you don’t floss, these little colonies of bacteria are colonizing and creating a firm foothold onto the sides of your roots, teeth, and gums.

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Bad Breath, Heart Disease & Weight Gain

So, what’s wrong with a little bacteria? The problem is how your body responds.

Your body recognizes this buildup of bacteria as an invasion — so it sends in its paratroopers to fight it off.

This is called an inflammatory response, and it breaks down the collagen and fibers responsible for keeping your teeth in your mouth. When those fibers are destroyed, your teeth get loose and fall out.

This chronic inflammatory reaction is also connected to weight gain as well as systemic diseases like heart disease and dementia.

By not flossing, you’re setting yourself up for tooth loss, heart disease, and dementia later in life.

Not flossing is also a major source of bad breath.

Don’t be in denial by thinking that just brushing is enough — it’s only doing 50% of the job at best.

What to Do If You Can’t Stand Flossing

If you hate flossing, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to make it easier and even enjoyable.

  • Purchase good quality floss that doesn’t fray.
  • Pick a flavor that you love and look forward to using. There’s cinnamon, tea tree, and even bubble gum.
  • Commit to flossing just one tooth per day (yes, only one!) to trick yourself into making it a habit.
  • Try waxed floss, which glides much better between the teeth and doesn’t get stuck.
  • Use a flossing stick. I use the Reach Flosser, which I like better than other flossing sticks since this one has a long handle like a toothbrush, which makes it even easier to use.

Think of it like this: You can paint a fence front and back — but skipping the inside surfaces leaves the fence open to rot.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Learn More: The Psychology of Flossing: How to Make It a Habit For Good