Dec. 15, 2022 – You probably don’t floss your teeth as often as your dentist recommends. (Once a day keeps the plaque away, according to the American Dental Association.) But when you do clean between your pearly whites, do you use the 99-cent spool from the drugstore, or the $10 roll from a subscription box?
If you’re just now learning about the existence of luxury dental floss, that's likely because interdental concoctions – from fruit-scented fibers doused with coconut oil to vegan, gluten-free bamboo floss – are relatively new to the roughly $5 billion annual oral health market in the United States.
High-end flosses are trendy, says Marion Manski, director of the Division of Dental Hygiene at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, in Richmond. But do these products do a better job of removing the yuck between your teeth?
“I’m glad these products are out there for patients to choose. It may be their preference, and it’ll be the trick that works for them,” she says. “But I always am very wary of what the claims are.”
Manski has sampled more than a few flosses in her nearly 40 years as a dental hygienist. She says the mass-market varieties generally remove bacterial plaque just as well as boutique brands.
“Patients need to be savvy in their decision-making,” she says. “They have to really do their research to make sure [the floss] is doing what it says it does.”
The Allure of Luxury Floss
In Manski’s experience, most patients avoid flossing because they don’t want their fingers in their mouth. Other people may claim to be too busy to spare the extra few minutes a day.
Broadly, only about a third of U.S. adults ages 30 and older floss daily, suggests a 2018 study published in the Journal of Periodontology. Women were more likely to floss daily – 37%, compared to 26% of men.
When Chrystle Cu, DDS, opened her dental practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, getting patients to floss was like, well, pulling teeth.
“I became totally obsessed with flossing specifically, because flossing reaches an area that toothbrushes can’t,” she says. “People are getting cavities in between their teeth all the time, and flossing could’ve prevented it.”
Cu found existing flosses flat, slippery, and not good at removing sticky biofilm. She also couldn’t find any inspiring products. So, she made her own.
If nothing else, a visit to the Cocofloss website is a tropical vacation for the eyes. A palette of Caribbean blues and peachy pinks greets shoppers in the market for banana daiquiri- and confetti cake-scented floss. The company Cu launched with her sister, artist Cat Cu, aims to transport those relaxing vibes to the flossing experience.
As its name suggests, Cocofloss is made with coconut oil. The floss is circular and textured, which Cu says makes it better than drugstore varieties that may slide over plaque without removing the tacky buildup.
“You can see the plaque coming off your teeth, and so it’s very rewarding. It helps motivate you to want to do it more,” Cu says. “It’s disgusting, but it feels good.”
The advertised oral escape comes at a steep cost: a 33-yard spool is $10. Cocofloss has plenty of competitors in the clean beauty sphere, such as DrTung’s Smart Floss, made of expandable fibers coated in vegetable and beeswax. A pair of 30-yard spools cost $9.84. Zero Waste Floss, 33 yards of charcoal-infused bamboo from EcoRoots, is $9.99.
Meanwhile, Walmart sells a 55-yard pack of Reach Mint Waxed Floss for 97 cents. CVS offers a 40-meter roll (about 44 yards) of Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Comfort Plus Floss for $5.59. Other options include floss picks, which Manski says work in a pinch, and water flossers, which can cost more than $100.
Each brand boasts its supposed advantage over others, but Manski has seen little scientific evidence that certain floss types can lead to a cleaner mouth.
A study published last February in the journal Materials supports that view: “In spite of the fact that dental floss nowadays comes in a variety of materials, including silk, nylon, and PTFE [polytetrafluoroethylene] with or without wax, little is known about its physical properties, tensile strength, and structural and morphological characteristics,” the authors concluded.
Ask Your Dental Hygienist for Flossing Help
Can you remember life before brushing your teeth? The act has been so ingrained in our daily routines since early childhood that it almost seems an evolutionary trait. But we’re not born knowing how to brush properly.
Whether a toothbrush is fashioned from cheap plastic or is an expensive sonic model, the tool is only as good as the user, says Martha McComas, interim associate director of dental hygiene at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in Ann Arbor.
“You could use an electric toothbrush the completely wrong way, and it’s not going to be effective. It’s the same with the floss,” she says. “If you’re not cleaning that interdental space – the space that’s between the tooth and the gum that you can see – then it’s really not effective.”
While the idea of asking your dental hygienist to show you how to floss correctly – something you thought you’d known for decades – might be embarrassing, don’t worry, McComas says. They can not only assess your flossing technique but also determine whether your preferred brand of floss is right for you.
The bottom line: No one-size-fits-all floss exists. The best type for you depends on things like the width between your teeth, whether you have hardware, and whether you wear braces, McComas says,
For example, if your teeth are tightly packed together, a round, unwaxed floss is your best bet, she says. If you have fillings or crowns, stay away from woven flosses, which can shred and get stuck. Dental tape – wide, flat floss – might work well for some smiles but be too thin for others.
Manski and McComas stress that the greatest floss is the kind you’ll use daily.
“Would you go 5 days without brushing your teeth? No, of course not,” Manski says. “It has to be the same with floss.”