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Science in the News

Getting Patients to Floss

August 12, 2015

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, more than one-quarter of 2021 surveyed Americans lie to their dentist about flossing.1 More than a third said they would rather do an unpleasant chore, like cleaning the toilet, than floss every day. How do you fight those odds and get your patients to floss?

Although there hasn’t been much research in the area, there are studies to show that some interventions may work. It seems motivation to start flossing just isn’t enough for patients to make it part of their routine.2 Getting patients to specify a time they will floss, may be one key to getting them on board. Asking the patient to describe when, where and how he or she will floss also appears to increase the likelihood of flossing on a regular basis.3,4  One study found that encouraging the patient to floss after brushing increased the likelihood that they will actually floss.5 Talking to your patient about other times he or she has managed to kick an unhealthy habit or adopt a healthy one is another strategy to help set them up for success.6 

According to the AAP survey, you’re facing an uphill battle getting your patients to floss.  Engaging them in creating their own, concrete strategy about their own flossing habits may improve the odds that they succeed in making flossing part of their regular routine.


1.  More than a Quarter of U.S. Adults are Dishonest with Dentists about how often they Floss Their Teeth.  American Academy of Periodontology; June 23, 2015.  https://www.perio.org/quarter-of-adults-dishonest-with-dentists  Accessed August 11, 2015.
2.  Suresh R, Jones KC, Newton JT, Asimakopoulou K.  An Exploratory Study into whether Self-Monitoring Improves Adherence to Daily Flossing Among Dental Patients.  J Public Health Dent 2012;72(1):1-7.
3.  Sniehotta FF, Araújo Soares V, Dombrowski SU.  Randomized Controlled Trial of a One-Minute Intervention Changing Oral Self-Care Behavior.  J Dent Res 2007;86(7):641-5.
4.  Schüz B, Wiedemann AU, Mallach N, Scholz U. Effects of a Short Behavioural Intervention for Dental Flossing: Randomized-Controlled Trial on Planning When, Where and How.  J Clin Periodontol 2009;36(6):498-505.
5.  Judah G, Gardner B, Aunger R.  Forming a Flossing Habit: An Exploratory Study of the Psychological Determinants of Habit Formation.  British Journal of Health Psychology 2013;18:338-353.
6.  Staunton L, Gellert P, Knittle K, Sniehotta FF.  Perceived Control and Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation for Oral Self-Care: A Full Factorial Experimental Test of Theory-Based Persuasive Messages.  Ann Behav Med 2015;49(2):258-68.

About Science in the News

Science in the News is a service by the American Dental Association (ADA) to its members to present current information about science topics in the news. The ADA is a professional association of dentists committed to the public's oral health, ethics, science and professional advancement; leading a unified profession through initiatives in advocacy, education, research and the development of standards. As a science-based organization, the ADA's evaluation of the scientific evidence may change as more information becomes available. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.