Can Flossing Damage Your Teeth or is it Just a Myth?

Can Flossing Damage Your Teeth Or Is It All Just A Myth?

The question “can flossing damage teeth” has plagued us for eons.

Dentist Levi Spear gained recognition as the inventor of floss in the early 19th century. He knew in order to have a truly healthly lifestyle, you needed good oral hygiene.

The debate about the benefits of flossing is puzzling. It has both experts and individuals divided amongst each other. 

Our teeth have both a functional and aesthetic value making them an asset we want to invest in. There are actually five surfaces on every tooth. Three of them can be cleaned with brushing, but the other two require flossing.

The act of flossing explained

Flossing involves the use of strings known as dental floss to navigate around the gum line. You could remove residue, bacteria and plaque that can cause gum diseases.  Not flossing may lead to a buildup of plaque that hardens into tartar or calculus. This results in various undesirable ailments including: 

This article is all about discussing the ambiguity and highly debated question of “can flossing damage teeth?”

Can flossing damage your teeth

​Expert debates over flossing

To begin with, the Department of Health and Human Services and NHS seem to be shifting away from flossing. They have decided to drop recommended daily flossing from within their guidelines. They’ve based this decision off of the fact that there’s no hard-hitting scientific evidence to back up the flossing theory. 

The HHS/USDA acknowledged that the true effectiveness of flossing had never ben subjected to an actual review.  The research founded was inconclusive. So in their dietary guidelines, the federal government has now opted out of this procedure. 

Procter and Gamble (P&G) who promote many varieties of floss wanted to prove the value of flossing and therefore decided to sponsor a two year study to answer the question ‘can flossing damage teeth’ once and for all. The study founded that floss fights gingivitis, plaque and inflammation of the gums. Yet this investigation was later discounted as irrelevant by a research review.

Dentist opinion on the value of flossing

Most dentists tell us that regular flossing keeps your teeth healthy.  Now advisers at the British Dental Association proclaim it to be very ineffective. They now choose to recommend “inter-dental” brushes instead which are small enough to clean within any gaps between teeth. 

Professor Damien Walmsley (British Dental Associations) commented that flossing provides little utilitarian value. He stated flossing is only beneficial in rare cases and instances when spaces between your teeth are too tight.

Even more case studies on flossing

Research projects have been undertaken in the last 10 years and have focused their attention upon 25 case studies. They compared the combined use of brushing and flossing to show findings that supported flossing in a weak manner. 

The supporting proof was weak, of very low quality and unreliable.  It also seemed that there was a moderate to relatively large potential for bias. A majority of the studies illustrated the failed use of flossing for adequate plaque elimination.

Can flossing damage teeth?

Flossing on its own poses no threat to the person carrying it out. Yet there are extenuating circumstances that may lead to a negative outcome. A lot of patients complain to their dentist that their gums hurt after flossing and want to know “can flossing damage teeth?”. This may be because of the following reasons

​Potential downsides to flossing

  • Obsessive or aggressive flossing can put too much pressure on your gums. This can be a disadvantage of over-flossing. You can damage your gum line, making them increasingly vulnerable to external damage.
  • The flawed method of flossing can end up being more detrimental than beneficial for your teeth. It is possible that you might injure the gums. Only conduct flossing in an upward motion and not in harsh, jerky movements. A lack of proper flossing techniques will do more harm than good.
  • Flossing for more than a minute or two might cause wear and tear and excessive bleeding. Gum damage from flossing is most often a product of such unnecessary behavior.
  • The mechanical nature of floss as a tool can end up being abrasive to gums. It can especially be irritating for people who have sensitive gums.
  • Those who wear braces cannot reap any benefits from flossing. Rather, it can mess up the wires and brace gear within the mouth if attempted.
  • It can also increase the release of harmful bacteria into your bloodstream. This could lead to an infection.
  • Lead to food impaction i.e. pushing food further into the teeth spaces.

​Benefits of flossing

  • Removes food particles and debris lodged between your teeth.
  • Improves oral hygiene.
  • Stimulates gums and increases healthy blood circulation.
  • The fluoride in the string can prevent bacteria multiplication.

Types of floss and their effects

  • Waxed Floss: Coated in wax, this is mainly a flavored item made of nylon strands. This type can slide relatively easily between teeth. But, it can leave a residue that some may find annoying and uncomfortable. 
  • Unwaxed Floss: Made of nylon strands, yet less sturdy and can get in tighter spaces more easily. 

Can flossing damage gums or help them?

Flossing is a relatively low-risk and low-cost procedure. Countless clinical studies do reinforce that it is effective when done properly. So there’s no real harm in incorporating it into your daily routine.

It falls more into a preventative measure for you. This will prevent tooth decay originating from the acid-producing bacterial biofilm. 

It is also good for preventing gum diseases as it acts to mechanically disrupt or dislodge plaque deposits from your teeth.

The main problem with flossing is that people just find it boring. So they just don’t do it as often as they should. A water flosser is a more efficient and a little more fun the traditional flossing. Heres our top water flosser picks. 

Final word on the act of flossing

Realisticly, flossing has a very low risk of causing any serious or long term problems. The risk to benefit ratio of the equation falls in favor of flossing. Keep flossing included in your interdental cleaning methods.

Remember, when flossing you should follow the procedure below: 

  1. Wrap it in a c-shape, 
  2. Cover as much surface area of the tooth
  3. Cover fifty percent of the diameter of the tooth from every angle
  4.  Make sure to move the floss up and down underneath and along the outer surface of the gum tissue. 

The doubts behind: can flossing damage enamel or can flossing damage fillings is answered. The hypothesis is that if done in an appropriate way, you should not damage any part of your teeth at all.

Let's get one thing straight. No study, and undoubtedly no dentist, will ever claim or even suggest that flossing is unsafe. You will be hard pressed to find a study that explains an individual's well-being is improved by excluding flossing from their oral health routine.


By Andrew Swiatowicz, Dentist. Special Needs Advocate.

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