If you're like a lot of people, your first response to your dentist's flossing recommendation may be "I brush my teeth, so I'm fine." While brushing your teeth twice a day will go a long way toward maintaining oral health, you're not getting the optimal cleaning if you leave the floss unused in the back of your medicine cabinet.
A toothbrush works by physically removing plaque -- a sticky, bacteria-laden film -- from your teeth with its soft bristles. Toothpaste enhances the effect of the toothbrush, and kinds that contain fluoride help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth. But brushing has one big drawback: A toothbrush's bristles can't adequately clean between the teeth or under the gums [source: ADA].
That's where floss comes in. It's a tool specifically made to remove plaque from the tight spaces between the teeth and under the gums. The ADA suggests that flossing before you brush also helps make brushing more effective: With less plaque caught between your teeth, the fluoride in toothpaste can get to more parts of your mouth. Think of floss and a toothbrush as a detail paintbrush and paint roller, respectively. You could paint your living room walls with just one of the tools, but using them together will provide a much more satisfactory result [source: ADA].