According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Periodontology, 27% of American adults lie to their dentist about how often they floss, and over a third of Americans would rather do an unpleasant activity like waiting in traffic, cleaning a toilet, or washing dishes than floss their teeth. Obviously, many Americans have a strained relationship with their flossing routine. It’s no surprise, then, that when the Associated Press released a report stating that there is insufficient research to back the benefits of flossing, plenty of people were quick to embrace the headlines and toss out the floss.
However, it’s important to look at what their report really stated. The Associated Press mentions that the recommendation to floss was removed from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans this past year because the research conducted on flossing is not strong enough to prove that flossing significantly helps to remove plaque or prevent periodontal (gum) disease. As cited in an NPR article, a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services clarified that the recommendation was left out because the Advisory Committee focused more on the effects of sugars on tooth decay, stating that "they were not implying that this is not an important oral hygiene practice," and "it is also important to note that, although dental floss was mentioned in past editions of the guidelines, it was most likely identified as a supporting recommendation along with brushing teeth, with the primary emphasis being on the nutrition-based recommendation to reduce added sugars."
As several articles have pointed out, the real problem isn’t that flossing doesn’t work; it’s that comprehensive, direct studies are extremely difficult to conduct. Gum disease develops slowly, taking years to reach a severe level, and every study so far has lasted no longer than a few weeks. Conducting a long-term study (like over the course of 10 years) with a significant number of participants would cost millions of dollars. Not only that, but most people tend to floss incorrectly, a fact that would disrupt the results regardless of their duration. This is evidenced by the fact that several studies where professionals flossed children’s teeth for 2 years during their school days decreased the children’s risk for cavities by 40%.
Despite the Associated Press report, the American Dental Association continues to endorse flossing as a key step in dental health routines, explaining that toothbrushes just can’t get to those tricky in-between spaces. Without flossing, bacteria and plaque are left to live in those spaces, leading to problems like cavities and periodontal disease, which in turn contribute to heart disease. The dentists, hygienists, assistants, and all the rest of the staff at Smiles for Life will keep urging our patients to floss at least once a day because we have seen first-hand the benefits of long-term flossing as well as the detriments of neglecting to floss. Flossing is cheap, easy, and low-risk. Periodontal disease is irreversible. Whatever your personal feelings about flossing, it is always advisable to follow the instructions given to you by your dentist. They have the training, knowledge, and experience necessary to evaluate your situation and give you the best course of action.
If you have any questions about flossing or any other aspect of dental health, contact us today. We’d love to help you take charge of your smile.