Daily flossing removes plaque, bacteria and food particles from between teeth where toothbrushes can't reach. It's the best way to protect teeth and gums.

Flossing can even protect your overall health. Research has clearly shown links between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease and diabetes and, very recently, possible links to Alzheimer's disease and pancreatic cancer. Yet about half of Americans don't floss each day.

Non-flossers often complain that flossing is painful, awkward or time-consuming. If you can't bring yourself to floss, consider these alternatives…

Floss Alternatives

  • Water picks. Water picks use small, high-powered bursts of water to flush debris from between the teeth. This is not as effective as daily flossing, and the sensation takes some getting used to, but it's a lot better than nothing. Water picks are particularly useful for those who have braces or other dental work that makes flossing difficult.

Important: Set your water pick to its medium pressure setting, not the highest. Excessive water pressure can blast bacteria further under your gum line.

  • Mouthwash. Antibacterial mouthwashes cannot remove plaque from between your teeth, but they can at least kill bacteria. Swish with mouthwash for at least 30 seconds a full minute is even better. Select a mouthwash with the American Dental Association seal of approval to ensure that it is truly antimicrobial.

You also can fill a water pick with a diluted mouthwash solution (one or two parts water to one part mouthwash). The water pressure will dislodge much of the debris from between your teeth, and the mouthwash will kill most of the bacteria that remain.

  • Interdental cleaners. These plastic tools are similar to toothpicks, only their blunted ends are less likely to damage the gums. Though not as effective as floss, they can remove much of the debris from between the teeth when used carefully. Ask your dentist to show you how to use one.

Better Flossing

These floss products can make flossing more pleasant...

  • Floss holders. Arthritis sufferers and others with limited dexterity often find it difficult or painful to maneuver dental floss around the mouth. A floss holder, available at any drugstore, solves this problem by supplying an easy-to-grip handle.
  • High-quality flosses. Premium flosses, such as Crest's Glide, are slicker and stronger than economy brands, making flossing easier, especially between tight teeth.

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