*(This post refers to dental flossing, not the over-hyped and short-lived dance move).
In the last few years, the practice of dental flossing has been challenged by media sources. This post analyzes criticisms of flossing and gives the latest advice from dental professionals on the subject.
As dentists say, “you only brush and floss the teeth you want to keep.” But in recent years, media outlets have challenged the conventional wisdom of flossing with headlines like this one from British newspaper The Telegraph: “Flossing teeth does little good investigation finds as US removes recommendation from health advice”.
Critics of flossing argue that it really doesn’t do much and that the only people who benefit are dental floss companies. This post analyzes what we know about flossing and reviews guidelines put out by the American Dental Association and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the subject.
What Do the Experts Say?
As oral health specialists, dentists are the experts when it comes to flossing. Leading professional dental organizations nationwide continue to recommend flossing.
The American Dental Association (ADA) states:
“The (ADA) recommends cleaning between your teeth daily with an interdental cleaner (like floss). Cleaning between your teeth may help prevent cavities and gum disease. Cleaning between your teeth helps remove a sticky film called plaque. Plaque contains bacteria that feeds on leftover food or sugar in your mouth. When that happens, it releases an acid that can eat away at the outer shell of your teeth (enamel) and cause cavities.”
The Department of Health and Human Services states:
“Flossing is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. Professional cleaning, tooth brushing, and cleaning between teeth (flossing and the use of other tools such as interdental brushes) have been shown to disrupt and remove plaque.”
The American Association of Periodontology states:
“The accumulation of plaque bacteria beneath the gum line may cause an inflammatory response which ultimately leads to gingivitis, a mild form of periodontal disease. If left untreated, periodontal disease can worsen, leading to tooth loss and increased risk for other systemic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.”
So… I Still Have to Floss?
Well, much to your dental hygienist’s chagrin, no one is (probably) going to force you to floss. But if you want to have optimal oral health, dental professionals strongly recommend flossing. Everyone has a brother or a cousin or a friend who never flosses, but still has “perfect” teeth. There’s always an anomaly. It’s true that some people’s teeth are uniquely impervious to decay. But that’s the exception.
On a cautionary note, it is possible to damage gum tissue by flossing too aggressively. It’s important to find a balance between flossing gently and flossing thoroughly. Flossing shouldn’t typically be painful.
The basic concept is simple: You floss your teeth in order to clean the sides of your teeth that are inaccessible to the toothbrush. But there’s another benefit we don’t talk about often enough: better breath.
Flossing Gives You Better Breath
Plaque is not only sticky, but in most cases, stinky too. Flossing can improve your breath simply by removing foul-smelling plaque. When you floss AND use a tongue scraper, you’re on the fast road to fresh breath.
Flossing improves your breath, helps you reduce plaque buildup, and helps prevent gingivitis and the risk of periodontal disease. Dentists continue to strongly recommend flossing as an important practice for keeping your mouth healthy. When it comes to flossing, shoot for once per day. It doesn’t matter so much what time of day as it does that you’re consistent. Happy flossing!
American Dental Association. 2016. Federal Government, ADA Emphasize Importance of Flossing and Interdental Cleaners. https://www.ada.org/en/press-room/news-releases/2016-archive/august/statement-from-the-american-dental-association-about-interdental-cleaners
American Dental Association. Flossing. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/flossing?source=promospots&content=rotator&medium=flossing
Dr. Paulo Camargo. 2016. UCLA Newsroom. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/to-floss-or-not-to-floss:-that-is-suddenly-the-question
American Association for Periodontology. 2016. Statement from the AAP on flossing efficacy. https://www.perio.org/consumer/AAP-recommends-flossing