Some dental hygiene enthusiasts prefer woven dental floss the way some readers prefer paperbacks: more flexibility, softer on the fingertips, easier to hold at awkward angles. Even so, woven floss isn’t as popular as the classic, single-strand nylon floss sold in most supermarkets. Does its lack of popularity mean it’s not worth the hype, or is it a slept-on upgrade to the painful floss we all know and hate? Let’s find out.
The most popular type of braided floss that’s been on the market as of late is the Listerine Gentle Gum Care floss. A mint floss that contains cinnamon, the strand is bicolored blue-and-white and made of a “nylon texturized multi-filament.” Previously, a nearly identical formula was branded as the Reach Gentle Gum Care floss, which existed as possibly the only woven dental floss on the market. Parent company Johnson & Johnson moved the floss from its Reach division to the Listerine division, keeping the formula mostly the same minus a slightly-altered mint flavor and the exclusion of fluoride. However, to the dismay of the product’s fans, the woven floss was ultimately discontinued in 2019. This news was confirmed in a tweet from Johnson & Johnson, along with a juicy announcement sequestered in the thread that all of their floss products have been “divested to LG Household & Health Care, Ltd./Avon.” There’s no talk of a rebranded Gentle Gum Care woven floss from the new company.
Alternative brands for this type of floss exist, but the general commotion online regarding the Gentle Gum Care discontinuation begs the question: what exactly is so different about woven floss vs. the standard single strand? What can woven floss accomplish that single-strand floss can’t?
What is woven or braided dental floss?
Woven dental floss, sometimes referred to as braided dental floss or tufted dental floss, is generally made from multiple strands of nylon or cotton woven together to make one strong, flat strand. The tufted portion has a texture that resembles cotton both in look and touch. Like a cotton ball spread thin, the floss strand has small fibers poking out, which distinguishes it from a glossy, flat piece of waxed floss. It has the appearance of embroidery thread or an extremely small laid rope, with the strands twisted around each other. The Listerine Gentle Gum Care floss contained one blue tufted portion that resembled thin yarn, twisted with a thinner piece of white waxed floss. Because the separate filaments of braided floss are twisted, the floss strand can expand when pushed together, or shrink when pulled taut. The separate pieces it’s made of create a slightly wider-than-average floss. Woven floss often has added flavors, like mint, cinnamon, or coconut, and sometimes even a certain waxy texture to one of the filaments to help with gliding across the sides of teeth.
What can it accomplish with these unique features?
Scientists at the American Journal of Dentistry conducted a study to compare cleaning abilities of waxed, unwaxed, woven, and shred-resistant floss on 24 dental hygiene students. The students were “instructed not to brush, floss, or rinse for 3 days to allow for plaque development,” so we can imagine there was a large number of food particles between their teeth as well. While the difference was minor, approximately only 7%, the study revealed that woven floss removed the most plaque from the students’ front teeth: 75.15% in just one floss session.
Why might this be? For starters, woven floss has a different quality of contact with the tooth. Its fibrous texture creates extra friction against the sides of teeth, as well as rough edges for debris to cling to, so it has an added capacity for scraping away plaque and bits of food. The tufted portion of the floss is more likely to catch onto particularly thorny culprits – stringy bits of corn, pineapple, steak – that waxed floss might glide right over. This creates a more thorough-feeling flossing experience, with fewer hard-to-get bits of debris left behind.
Beyond the thorough scrubbing power that braided floss contributes, it’s able to go gentle on the fingers and gums. Its cotton-like texture is softer against hands while flossing, and less likely to cut off circulation in the fingertips. It’s also easier to grip, being both more textured and stiffer than waxed floss, which can be an advantage for those who may be less dexterous but dislike tools like floss picks. The stiffer quality allows for more control of the strand.
Furthermore, the fibrous texture makes it less likely for the floss strand to quickly glide against the side of a tooth up into the gum region. Even if the strand did make harsh contact with the gum, it doesn’t have the sharp edge of waxed floss that more easily causes bloodshed. Ultimately, woven floss creates a more comfortable and cushioned flossing experience.
Braided or tufted floss may also be more convenient for users with wider spaces between their teeth. The tufted portion being thicker than a waxed floss, the overall strand covers more surface area. It can also be pulled taut for tighter areas between other teeth, so the user wouldn’t necessarily need to switch types of strands.
What can’t it accomplish?
A major problem people have with flossing, to the point that it stops them from doing so, is the inability of floss to fit into tight spaces between teeth. Woven floss is thicker than waxed floss, due to its tufted portion, so it doesn’t do much to help this problem. In fact, it’s more likely to get stuck between teeth, even though it can shrink by being pulled taut. It’s difficult to get motivated to floss if you can hardly fit the strand between your teeth in the first place, and woven floss makes this even harder.
The fibrous quality of woven floss is a bit of a catch-22 as well: while it’s easier to snag hard-to-get bits of food, the fibrous pieces may get caught in one’s teeth themselves. This is especially true in the aforementioned case, if one’s teeth are close together. Woven floss isn’t usually 100% shred-resistant, so those fuzzy bits have the potential to simply join all those tricky bits of food. This could make the space between teeth feel even more crowded. Unwaxed floss, while not as fibrous, has the ability to create a similar type of friction as woven floss, so it could accomplish that thorough-clean feeling without snagging quite as much.
Woven floss’s thick and stiff character might make it more difficult to floss in the back of your mouth. When flossing posterior teeth, the gliding ability of waxed floss can be an advantage: since you can’t see all the crevices you need to reach, you can trust waxed floss to find its way in there with minimal guidance. With braided floss, however, it could take more maneuvering – especially as that section of the mouth tends to be more crowded.
Of course, woven floss has many of the same issues as regular floss: time-consuming, difficult to find the correct angle for maximum plaque removal, and potential discomfort. There are also ecological concerns regarding string floss of any kind: floss usually isn’t biodegradable, and contributes millions of miles of waste in oceans and landfills yearly. Not to mention the plastic containers!
Ultimately, there isn’t much evidence beyond indicators of comfort and aiding manual dexterity to support the use of woven floss over waxed floss. Even the aforementioned study by the American Journal of Dentistry noted “minimal differences in the efficacy of different types of floss, their degree of comfort and ease of use.” Still, people are paying the likes of $104 for just a two-pack of the discontinued Listerine Gentle Gum Care floss. Clearly, for certain flossers, the braided variety has advantages that other types of floss simply can’t cover. The mechanism of using each type of floss is the same, so it must have something to do with comfort or the thoroughly-clean feeling that the fibrous texture can accomplish. In fact, many who floss don’t end up doing it correctly, so braided floss may have some added insurance in that department.
Are there alternatives?
Now that woven floss is difficult to find in the average supermarket, consumers are having to either order it online for high prices, or switch back to regular waxed or unwaxed floss. However, they should consider thinking bigger, and opting-out of string flossing altogether. Of course, one needs to floss, given its effectiveness for reducing gingivitis and preventing gum disease. But have they considered the sizable benefits of water flossing? In a single use, a water flosser is 129% as effective at removing plaque as string floss, 151% as effective at reducing gingivitis symptoms, and 200% as effective at reducing bleeding caused by gingivitis. That’s just to name a few advantages – take a look at our article on the scientific evidence regarding water flossing vs. string flossing for more information.
While water flossers are more efficient and more comfortable when it comes to teeth-cleaning, they generally don’t solve the problem of efficiency. They can be time consuming, especially considering the difficulty of thoroughly cleaning one’s teeth at all the correct angles. There’s one, however, that can do everything a regular water flosser can in only 10 seconds. Of all water flossers, Instafloss is the fastest. Unlike Waterpik (or any other existing water flosser), Instafloss uses multiple water jets to accomplish what a 1-jet flosser does in 1/12th the time (10 seconds vs. two minutes). The Instafloss mouthpiece aims pulsing water jets at 90° to the gumline, creating the most effective angle and never misses a spot, ultimately contacting the entire surface area of each tooth. Multiple jets overlap, cleaning the same spot multiple times.
Thus, not only does Instafloss do a better job at cleaning teeth with less effort from the user, but it does it more quickly and more comfortably, making the likes of woven floss and all its compatriots look like expensive and wasteful stuff of the past. The exorbitant prices for braided floss, from $10 to $100 a pack (depending on brand preference) indicate a clear demand for a better, more thorough and comfortable way to floss. Luckily for them, there’s a number of options: from traditional water flossers to the automatic Instafloss, the problems of string floss can be stuff of the past.