A recent investigation by the Associated Press questions the efficacy of flossing. Are we really better off brushing and flossing every day?
The U.S. Government has been including flossing in their recommendations for health since 1979 including, until recently, in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Last year the Associated Press asked for the scientific evidence proving the effectiveness of flossing for the removal of plaque from the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. As a result, the flossing recommendation was removed from the latest dietary guidelines which has people wondering if flossing is just another myth.
Of course, most dental health professionals are not ready to give up on flossing. They understand that the problem with many of the scientific studies that previously had been cited to prove the benefits of flossing were either not rigorous enough nor of long enough duration – which doesn’t mean flossing isn’t helpful to maintain oral health, just that how helpful it is remains uncertain.
What is certain is that plaque, the gunky layer composed of bacteria, lives in your mouth and grows on your teeth. While regular brushing is critical to removing plaque, those bristles only clean two sides of those teeth – the side that faces your teeth/lips and the side that faces your tongue. One way to remove debris from eating and built up plaque between those teeth is by flossing. While it’s not the only way and is sometimes done incorrectly or ineffectively, the American Dental Association states that flossing removes plaque which helps to prevent gingivitis. That is certainly a desired oral health outcome.
Of course for people who don’t like to floss – and some of them would prefer to clean a toilet than do it – the Associated Press investigation gives them a reason not to do what they weren’t doing anyway. It’s also true that gum disease is complex. Some people have immune systems that are compromised or weakened and are more at risk for developing illness as a result of inadequate oral health care. Plaque also varies from person to person, both in its development and composition. As we’ve mentioned before only some of the bacteria in your mouth is bad. Other bacteria is good and helps keep the bad bacteria under control.
The bottom line is dentists are going to keep recommending flossing because they see how flossing done correctly does remove plaque. They will also continue to educate their patients as to how it’s best done, including making sure to hug the teeth as you move the floss down into the C-curve between the gum and tooth and be thorough. Sawing motions are not good flossing; the goal is to remove that plaque layer. If you’re not doing that, the flossing you’re doing may not be of much use at all.
If you have any questions about the right way to floss, please be sure to ask your dental health professional during your next scheduled appointment.