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Asking For A Friend: How Gross Is It If I Don't Floss Every Day?

Your dentist scolds you annually about your poor flossing habits... but do you really need to floss every day? We're setting the record straight on how bad it really is to forgo flossing every night. 

There are a few parts of your bedtime routine you hold sacred: washing your face, brushing your teeth, changing into comfy PJs. And then there's flossing, the easy-to-forget (or blatantly ignore) habit you know you should be doing daily. But let's say you slip one night, or two, or—whoops!—an entire week. How bad is it really to forget to floss?

"I would say it's not a big deal," says Mark Burhenne, D.D.S., a California dentist and author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox​. "It's really diet and lifestyle first, and then it's flossing and brushing."

You heard that right: Flossing becomes way less important if you generally stay away from candy, pasta, and other overly processed foods that can cause tooth decay. "If you're a very healthy person and you're eating a Paleo diet with no fermentable carbohydrates, no junk, no sugar, you probably don't need to floss every day," Burhenne says. (See also: How to Whiten Your Teeth with Food)

And there's science to back him up. In 2012, researchers reviewed 12 studies and concluded there's "weak, very unreliable evidence" that flossing reduces plaque after one and three months, though flossing did reduce gingivitis. That's why you should still do it when you can—ideally three or four times a week, Burhenne recommends. Otherwise, within a couple of months, odors will creep in, your gums may get puffy, and they may start to bleed.

Remembering and actually wanting to floss every day can be a struggle. Burhenne gets it. He suggests stashing floss all around your apartment—by your nightstand, near the couch, in your purse—so you think of it more often. "You may not floss every day, but you'll [eventually] miss that sensation of what it feels like to floss," he says. "That's a great way to get people hooked."

This article originally appeared on SHAPE.com

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