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Are There Alternatives To Flossing?

Are There Alternatives To Flossing?

Dr. Michael Layton
June 25, 2015

Dental floss is widely recommended by dental professionals worldwide for its effectiveness in combating gum disease. Flossing is often overlooked when people first wake up in the morning or go to bed at night. This mundane act removes plaque and bacteria that your toothbrush can’t reach.

Plaque is culprit number 1 when it comes to the development of gum disease. If you don’t remove plaque within a day or two it hardens into calculus or the more commonly term tartar, which can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. Maintaining a daily flossing ritual prevents plaque from hardening into tartar. Chipping away at plaque on a daily basis will prevent oral care issues from surfacing later on.

Gingivitis is a common reversible form of gum disease. Currently there are 32 percent of Canadian adults 20 to 79 years of age with gingivitis, it is estimated that 48 percent of Canadian adults who have not visited a dentist in the last 12 months have gingivitis. With these high statistics you would think everyone would be flossing on a daily basis, unfortunately this is just not the case. The American Dental Association did a study indicating that 50.5 percent of Americans floss daily, 31 percent of Americans floss less than daily and 18.5 percent of Americans do not floss at all.

The History of Dental Floss

In 1815 it was the American dentist, Dr. Levi Spear Parmly who first used waxed silken thread as floss. He wrote a book, A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth, this book advocated the necessity of brushing and flossing daily. Codman and Shurleft was the first company based out of Randolph, Massachusetts in 1882 to mass produce silk dental floss. A short time after Johnson & Johnson received the first ever dental floss patent. During World War II the rising cost of silk resulted in the switch to nylon as the primary material used in dental floss. Nylon doesn’t shred and its more durable than silk, it was during this time waxed dental floss was introduced, dental tape would be released later in the 1950s.

Modern day dental floss is now made with space age materials such as Gore-Tex. Teflon is another material used in dental floss brought to you by the company DuPont, adding teflon to dental floss allows it to glide across the teeth effortlessly. Synthetic wax is also another substance used in the manufacture of floss.

Oral-B is another well known company that designed their own Super Floss that is effective in flossing around braces and other dental appliances. There is no excuse for not flossing but for those of you who want another option consider the following advances in dental care.

Sorbitol Gum

A study entitled, “Quantification and Qualification of Bacteria Trapped in Chewed Gum” released by PLOS ONE indicated that the chewing of gum contributes to the maintenance of oral health. They did several studies with a group of people chewing gum, after the gum was chewed it was analyzed for bacterial count. Calibration curves were created by subjecting the gum to bacteria before dissolving it in a mixture of chloroform and a tris-ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (TE)-buffer. The longer the gum was chewed the more bacteria was found in the gum.

Oral-B is also an advocate of gum chewing to reduce plaque. People reading this will want to heed the warning that gum chewing is not a substitute to regular oral care.

Interdental Brush

The next generation toothbrush is here, the interdental brush can replace regular dental floss. The majority of people still don’t floss on a regular basis so this new toothbrush is probably the best option for people who don’t like to floss. Interdental brushes are effective at removing interproximal plaque. These specialized toothbrushes can be purchased in different sizes and shapes and best of all they are extremely affordable.

Just like any other toothbrush they can be used daily for the removal of plaque and debris from the oral cavity. Coincidentally Oral-B manufacturers an Interdental Brush System that cleans around dental appliances like bridges, braces and wide interdental spaces. Designed to reach hard to reach places this toothbrush is a must have for people on the go.

Overall various studies have shed light on the popularity and ease of using an interdental brush. Manual devices have even been recommended amongst some dental professionals as being superior to automatic devices.

For a more detailed study regarding the effectiveness of interdental toothbrushes versus flossing consult the following study, Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene.

Waterpik Oral Irrigator or Water Flossers

By now you have probably realized that brushing alone is not enough. Dental domestic engineers have come up with the water oral irrigator or water flosser. This device works by sending pulsated water to clean the mouth, different pressure settings allow the user to gently clean or deep cleanse the teeth.

The concentrated water flow whisks away plaque and debris from between the teeth and below the gumline. Water flossers are very effective at treating gum disease and periodontal pockets.

Health benefits

  • Regular users report healthier gums
  • 50 percent more effective than traditional dental floss
  • Can be used with people who have dental appliances (i.e. braces)
  • Massages and stimulates the gums therefore enhancing circulation
  • Effective for people with dental implants, crowns, bridges and veneers
  • Reduces plaque, gingivitis and gum disease

Product features

  • Multiple heads
  • Advanced pressure control system with multiple settings
  • Reservoir capacities up to 90 seconds

Electric Flosser

Oral-B manufactures the hummingbird this device takes the place of dental floss. Electric flossers have the distinct advantage of vibrating this massages the gums. Easy to use electric flossers reach below the gum line and between the teeth to remove plaque.


  • Easy to use
  • Massages your gums
  • Use with one hand, great for people who lack manual dexterity
  • Removes plaque from between the teeth and below the gum line

Sonicare AirFloss

Sonicare airfloss devices are another alternative to those who don’t like to floss. Philips is one such forward thinking company that manufactures the Sonicare AirFloss device. It works by delivering a combination of pressurized air and microdroplets of water to gently and safely clean the gums and teeth, the ultimate interproximal plaque remover.

In a blind study that included 148 adults in a controlled clinical trial, Sonicare AirFloss was found to significantly remove plaque and reduce gingivitis when used in combination with a manual toothbrush.


Despite the many breakthroughs and alternatives to manual flossing a regular toothbrushing regimen should never be replaced. If you have the time and money than you may want to consider investing in a modern dental hygiene appliance. Investing in the alternatives discussed in this article can prevent gingivitis and periodontal gum disease.

In addition to brushing your teeth and flossing you should always visit your dentist for checkups on a regular dental schedule as recommended by your dentist.

About Dr. Michael Layton

Dr. Michael Layton - South Surrey Dentist, Dental ImplantsDr. Michael Layton (DDS) is the dentist for Peace Arch Dental, a dental office in the South Surrey/White Rock, B.C. area. He has been in the dental industry for the last decade and received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington. He takes pride in providing positive and caring dental solutions for people of every walk of life. You can follow him on Google+.

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