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We start with an assumption that we all know what dental flossing is. But for the benefit of those who may be coming across the term for the very first time, a brief introduction, to give some context to our discussion would be very handy.
This is where it turns out that dental flossing is a dental hygienic process that is aimed at cleaning the spaces between the teeth. These are space that would otherwise be left untouched during the ordinary tooth cleaning process, especially keeping in mind the fact toothbrush bristles can't effectively penetrate and clean these areas. Dental flossing is carried out using a material called floss.
It is really a thin, strong thread, made specially for the purpose of penetrating the space between teeth and cleaning them up. Dental flossing offers many benefits, one of those being the prevention of gum diseases, another one being the prevention of dental cavities and another one being the prevention of halitosis...the sorts of conditions you would associate with improper dental hygiene.
It is when equipped with such background information that we can now proceed into the discussion as to when one should undertake flossing: before or after the brushing of teeth?
As it turns out, most dentists don't recommend one over the other. You can choose to undertake dental flossing before going ahead to brush the teeth. You can also opt to undertake dental flossing after brushing the teeth...and it would all be your choice.
But thought of from a pragmatic point of view, it would probably make sense to undertake flossing before, rather than after, the teeth-brushing.
The main reason as to why it would make sense to undertake dental flossing before proceeding to brush the teeth is what becomes clear once you get to appreciate the fact that besides cleaning up the inter-teeth spaces, the dental flossing process also microscopically opens up those spaces. Now we may also recall that one of the reasons we undertake ordinary teeth-brushing (with aid of toothpastes) is in a bid to supply our teeth with fluoride, which is usually part of the toothpaste's ingredients. As toothpaste is not supposed to be swallowed, we will also recall that the absorption of this fluoride by the teeth is usually direct, that is, through the surface of the teeth. This means that only the surfaces of the teeth that get into contact with the fluoride get to absorb it. From all this, we see a situation where the opening up of the spaces between teeth which is part of the dental flossing process, would make for greater surface area for this absorption of fluoride, as the fluoride penetrates into those opened up gaps.
Since the fluoride is to come from the toothpaste, in this situation, it would make a lot of sense to first undertake the dental flossing, to open up great absorption surfaces for the fluoride, before undertaking the tooth-brushing procedure. As things are, the normal brushing of teeth we undertake while the inter-tooth gaps are virtually closed makes for very suboptimal absorption of the fluoride that is contained in the toothpaste.