Do recent articles questioning the value of flossing your teeth have you jumping for joy? Before you toss your floss in the trash, you may want to listen to what dental professionals have to say. While flossing is not on anyone’s list of favorite things to do, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) still insist that the benefits of flossing far outweigh the cons.
Why Is Flossing Important?
Plaque, a sticky film containing bacteria, continually accumulates on and in between your teeth and around your gums. If plaque is left on your teeth too long, bacterial toxins begin to break down tooth enamel and cause inflammation of the gums. However, by using floss to regularly and thoroughly clean plaque off your teeth, you can prevent dental disease. The Academy of General Dentistry recommends flossing once every 24 hours.
Paul Manos, DDS, a dental director with United Concordia Dental, agrees that regular brushing cleans off most of the plaque, but he explains that the only way to break up the colonies of bacteria that form between the teeth is to floss daily. As a dentist, he has personally seen the damage that occurs when patients don’t floss.
“Flossing not only helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease, but it’s the only way to effectively clean in between your teeth,” said Dr. Manos.
Why the Controversy?
With so many benefits of flossing, why the negative press? It all started when the Associated Press (AP) investigated the usefulness of flossing and found that the majority of scientific studies failed to demonstrate that flossing is an effective method of plaque removal. Then, the federal government removed flossing recommendations from their 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and, in a letter to the AP, acknowledged that the effectiveness of flossing had not been researched. The federal government first recommended flossing in 1979 and has done so consistently over the years—until now.
In a recent news release, the ADA took issue with the AP’s implication that the government had changed its position on flossing. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee intentionally decided that the focus of the guidelines should be on food and nutrient intake, says the ADA. This change has no influence on long-established flossing recommendations from the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies. In fact, on Aug. 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (which produces the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) sent a statement to the ADA reaffirming the importance of using floss or other interdental cleaning aids to disrupt and remove plaque between the teeth.
The AAP also issued a statement recommending daily flossing as part of a comprehensive oral hygiene routine. The statement affirms that by removing plaque, bacteria and other debris from areas where your brush cannot reach, you can prevent gum disease, which is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Since gum disease develops slowly, the AAP suggests that any studies measuring the effectiveness of flossing need to be done over several years, rather than just a few weeks or months, and for a more accurate outcome, the number of people in a study group needs to be larger.
Flossing Technique Makes the Difference
Many anti-floss advocates (and you know who you are) find all kinds of excuses not to floss, most of which have nothing to do with research. Some people claim to be all thumbs or complain that it takes too long, others say the floss gets stuck between their teeth and occasionally cuts their gums. If you have used any of these defenses as a reason not to floss, know that your dentist or hygienist can easily help you solve these problems.
Floss holders, different types of floss and other aids are available for anyone who has difficulty flossing, and by learning the correct flossing technique, you can shorten the time it takes and avoid any injuries. The ADA suggests visiting their MouthHealthy website to learn more about flossing and other interdental cleaning aids.
While no study shows that flossing is 100 percent effective, one thing is for sure: Dentists still believe that the benefits of flossing are significant. If you know that leaving bacterial plaque on your teeth leads to dental disease, why would you not want to clean between your teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach?