THE BLOG
12/05/2011 06:31 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2012

Flossing Alternatives

One thing I always stress as an NYC cosmetic dentist is the importance of flossing. Now I know I sound like a broken record here, because you hear it often from dentists like me -- floss, floss, floss... But it is really important, and the truth is, most people really don't floss. (According to this study [1] by Crest, Oral B, and the ADA, 49 percent admit to flossing less than daily, and I personally feel that number is much higher. Of COURSE if asked, people will "say" they floss. But personally, I'd be surprised if 20 percent of people actually flossed daily.)

So I (and my colleagues) talk about flossing over and over because it's really the only way to remove plaque from in between your teeth. (When you brush, you're really only cleaning about 60 percent of your teeth -- flossing cleans the rest.)

Now, I will state here in the beginning that I DO "get it" -- flossing can be a pain in the butt. Sticking a string between your teeth is not easy, it's not really fun, and it's time consuming. I totally understand. That's why I am going to devote this blog to look at some different/alternative flossing products. I'm going to generally refrain from ranking them (save but one), because in the end, I think ALL of them are preferable to not doing anything. I will also state that for brevity's sake, I may end up posting links to some specific manufacturer's products here to show you some examples, but these should not be considered an endorsement of one company over another. It's just if I discuss an "electric flosser" or an irrigator, I want to be able to show you what one looks like. Again, no endorsement of a particular brand is implied, regardless of whose model I link to.

The first floss alternative I'll discuss is the plain old toothpick. Yes, a toothpick is useful for cleaning in between your teeth. While it doesn't do the best job, it is definitely better than nothing, and is easy to use. I won't link to a picture because I'm sure you know what a toothpick looks like.

The second one is what I would call "flossers." These are small pieces of plastic that look somewhat like the letter Y, with a piece of floss strung between them [2]. Essentially, these can be a little easier to use than string floss, and are so small, they can fit in a pocket, purse, desk drawer, etc. They are also pretty common, and (somewhat) acceptable to use in public (it's almost like using a toothpick.)

We can take these flossers to the next level and give them a big handle [3]. This can still fit in a purse, but since it's about the size of a toothbrush, it is probably better left in the bathroom vanity drawer. Still, many find these easier to use then regular floss. Do they do as good a job as regular floss? Well, they aren't going to get right under the gum around the back of the tooth, so probably not. But still, it's better than nothing.

Then we come to interdental brushes [4]. These are small brushes that are meant to go in between your teeth and clean them. These little brushes are pretty nice, in my opinion. They can come in all manner of sizes and styles, but no matter which you choose, I think they do a nice job. One abstract suggests they do a better job at reducing pockets than regular floss, too, although I'm not going to come right out and say they are better than floss [5]. Still, they are a worthy alternative, and they feel pretty good to use also.

Going a little further, you can take almost all of the above products and throw some batteries in them and create an "electric flosser" (or "power flosser"). Here's one from Oral B to give you an idea of what these look like [6]. I personally question whether battery powered is better, but if you prefer that, the option is there for you.

Okay, lastly, we'll come to what is probably my favorite type of alternative floss, because I think it does the best overall job of the bunch, and that's water irrigation. You may know them as "water piks," but I have to point out that Water Pik® is a brand name, just like Band-Aid® is actually a brand of bandage.

Okat, back to water irrigation -- this is an electric (or battery-powered) device that shoots a concentrated stream of water through your teeth. I find them very effective in cleaning in between teeth and gums. Perhaps better than flossing itself -- I do know it's a bit more on the gentle side (provided you don't crank it to 10 right away!) Plus, you can add a (non-alcohol) mouthwash or even some peroxide to the solution for a better cleaning.

These come in all shapes and sizes, from sink-top models to handheld [7], and all different price points. I know people that floss AND use water irrigation, and I have to say, their teeth are pretty darn healthy.

Check that -- I will come on record and say that ANYONE who uses the above products with any regularity will have healthier teeth. Flossing is a no-brainer, and with the myriad of products out there, it should be something you do on a daily basis.

Oh okay... I can't talk about all of these products without giving a personal favorite/recommendation. Here we go: The Sonicare airfloss [8] -- it combines irrigation and air to give you a nice cleaning. It also has a nice tip for targeted cleaning/etc. I don't get anything by endorsing this -- it's just an opinion. But it's my opinion.

Until next time, keep smiling.

[1] http://www.crest.com/ada-webcast/surveyfindings.pdf
[2] http://us-professional.gumbrand.com/departments/flossers/
[3] http://us-professional.gumbrand.com/departments/floss-handles-/products/gum-flosbrush/" http://us-professional.gumbrand.com/departments/floss-handles-/products/gum-flosbrush/
[4] http://www.interdentalbrushes.org/" http://www.interdentalbrushes.org/
[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9706852#
[6] http://www.oralbprofessional.com/us/products/power/powhbird.asp
[7] http://www.waterpik.com/oral-health/" http://www.waterpik.com/oral-health/
[8] http://www.sonicare.com/dp/ca_en/OurProducts/AirFloss.aspx