You may have read the article by now. You know, the one that appeared all over the media on August 2, 2016 claiming that flossing is not proven to have a medical benefit? Don’t stop at just reading the headlines, or the first paragraph and jump to conclusions.
The issue presented in the article is not if it is helpful or not to floss, but rather that it was claimed to have benefits without the research to back it.
Everyone I know is talking about the claims of this article, desperate to know if their valiant efforts to take care of their teeth have been wasted on a ritual that has no bearing on the health of their teeth. To the concerned, I urge you to think about these simple facts:
- Plaque is the sticky film that develops on teeth from bacteria and foods
- A lack of stimulation to the gingivae (gums) causes inflammation
- Gum inflammation= gingivitis
- Gingivitis leads to periodontitis
- Periodontitis is bone loss surrounding teeth
- This causes your teeth to fall out
The article states that it has not been proven; however, we do not always need scientific studies to know whether something is true. Many dentists argue that flossing can reverse initial problems with gums, even though there are not conclusive studies to prove it. A Cochrane review did find that regular flossers had less bleeding of the gums compared to those who only brushed.
Six trials were reviewed and found that when professionals flossed the teeth of children on school days for 1.7 years, they saw a 40 percent reduction in the risk of cavities. These studies that were done looked at the effects of flossing on decay risk and in general resulted in some beneficial difference. The studies did not look at whether flossing reduces gum disease (periodontitis) which professionals know cause bone loss.
I have friends who are avid, efficient flossers. They just happen to have full time careers as dental hygienists. They went to school and learned how to properly brush and floss. When they floss, their goal is to follow the contour of the tooth, sliding the floss below the gum line. They have beautiful pearly whites, free of decay and gum disease. Arguably, most common folk are uneducated on how to floss effectively.
If you look at the x-rays of several different individual adults, you will find a common theme: most restored cavities are in the back of the mouth, between the teeth. This area is difficult to brush properly and bristles don’t often make it in between. It seems clear, without the studies, that keeping plaque off all surfaces of the teeth and keeping gums healthy and free of inflammation plays a big role in the overall health of our teeth. Floss, if used properly, helps to ensure that in-between surfaces are cleaned and that gums are stimulated.
One could roll the dice, and take a chance that flossing is not worth the effort. As for me and my teeth, I will keep up the flossing effort until there are studies that prove there is absolutely no benefit. It will be too late when I am elderly to look back and wish I would have thought about the other possible benefits of effective flossing. I would encourage you to have a talk with your dentist or dental hygienist about proper brushing and flossing techniques if your goal is to have healthy teeth for the remainder of your life.