dental floss

Source: Stan Zurek

No doubt, if you’ve been on Facebook or anywhere near a cable news channel at all this summer you’ve heard something about this. The Associated Press (AP) recently released an article supposedly debunking the need for flossing. We’ve had tons of parents and patients alike asking us about this. With so many people asking us about it, we felt like it would be a good topic to address at length. The American Dental Association already had a fantastic response to the claim that flossing isn’t necessary, which you can read here.

Where Did the AP Find their Information?

Since 1980, the United States Department of Health and Human Services releases its Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. This is a document that provides nutritional advice to both the general public and healthcare professionals alike. These guidelines and recommendations are thoroughly researched and thoughtfully reviewed every five years. Studies released since the guidelines were last published are reviewed and can lead to changes in the recommendations as necessary. All recommendations included in the Guidelines must be scientifically based since this document is intended to give healthcare providers a resource to refer to when making nutrition and dietary recommendations to patients.

It seems the original idea causing the AP to look into the supposed controversy of flossing was that the Dietary Guidelines dropped its previous recommendation for flossing in the 2015 guidelines. The AP article points out that there is no recent research proving benefits of floss, and that there may even be several studies showing the practice of flossing to not be as effective as we once thought. It also points out that the few studies we do have concerning the benefits of flossing were “biased” and funded by companies that manufacture floss.

Problems with the AP Article

While flossing is no longer specifically “recommended” by the Dietary Guidelines, it is still generally accepted as beneficial. Granted no recent, large studies have been performed to determine the benefits of flossing, however, you shouldn’t misinterpret this as a reason to discontinue the good habit.

Plaque and food debris do still build-up in between the teeth. If you hope to prevent cavity formation, the plaque and debris needs to be removed somehow. Even the AP article acknowledges this fact. You may choose to use interproximal brushes, water picks, or floss; ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you use it regularly, and are able to effectively clean the in-between surfaces of your teeth with it.

It’s interesting that the AP decided to focus on the Guidelines dropping floss from its recommendations when the Guidelines bring up other issues that are much more pertinent to healthful living than harping on the supposed lack of benefit from flossing. For example, the Guidelines point out that sodas and sports drinks offer few or no nutritional benefits, and yet the AP didn’t warn the public not to consume these drinks.

soft drink

A Larger Pattern of Distrust

There is a larger pattern of distrust between healthcare providers, companies that furnish health care products, and the public. I used to think that mistrust was a problem that was unique to dentistry, but I’ve come to the realization that this isn’t the case. Mistrust in our society is rampant. Vaccinations are under fire, despite the fact that many previously prevalent and devastating diseases of early childhood had been all but eradicated by vaccinations. The theory that vaccines lead to an increased risk of developing Autism has been thoroughly debunked by a veritable multitude of scientific studies. Even the benefits and safety of sunscreen have recently come into question, despite sunscreen being one of our primary defenses against skin cancer, which is most commonly caused by overexposure to UV light.

And it’s true, healthcare providers haven’t always done enough to earn the public’s trust in the past, and corporations aren’t necessarily any better. But by and large, most dental and medical professionals just want to help improve your quality of life. (And probably even large corporations serve a higher purpose than just turning a profit…we hope!)

I’d like to assure you, there is no grand conspiracy from within the dental profession to trick and convince the public that they should floss. And, I know, maybe you think that’s what someone from within the conspiracy would say…but I’ll pull back the curtain and let you see for yourself:

We treat patients everyday for cavities that develop in between the teeth that are easily preventable with diet modification and good hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing regularly! It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider this, if there were truly a conspiracy, it would be the other way around, dentists and the profession wouldn’t be publicly defending the practice of flossing. We would be saying that you don’t need to do it at all so that we could all do more fillings!

Controversy Doesn’t Equal Conspiracy

Bottom line, the AP article seems to be written for the sole purpose of “click-bait”. It’s a controversial title and topic that was sure to generate lots of conversation on various social media outlets, and as such, it served its purpose. If the article were truly written with the intent to point out that perhaps there isn’t a plethora of evidence-based scientific data to prove that flossing is beneficial, it wouldn’t read as so distrustful of the dental profession.

Consider this, Isaac Newton proved gravity by supposedly seeing an apple fall from a tree. Yes, scientists eventually learned the precise speed at which gravity makes objects fall, but we certainly didn’t need anything more sophisticated to prove the effects of gravity.

Sure the Guidelines have dropped their specific recommendation, but this seems to be mostly because there have been no large scale studies looking specifically at flossing, and we don’t really need to waste research dollars to tell us what dentists already know: our regular flossers have less cavities between their teeth than our patients who have never touched the stuff.

So…Should You Floss?

Maybe the research concerning flossing could be more thoroughly fleshed out, but don’t lose sight of the forest from amongst the trees. Good oral hygiene is still important, and it always will be. I don’t care what brand of floss you are using, but keep at it!

how to flossIf you aren’t a regular flosser, and you stumbled across the article in question, don’t let it convince you that you were right all along to not be flossing. The important thing is flossing with the proper technique (up and down movements with the floss cupped around the tooth, not back and forth) certainly isn’t going to hurt anything, so why not do it?!

Questions? If you have questions about flossing or want to schedule your child for their regular dental exam and cleaning, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Call (434) 817-1817, contact us online, or leave a comment below.

About the Author

John Will, DDSDr. John Will comes from Tennessee. He studied dentistry at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in California and then stayed out there to do a residency in Anesthesiology. He has been practicing in Charlottesville, VA since 2010. Dr. Will enjoys traveling, exercising, being outdoors and spending time with his wife and three children. Read his full bio here.