Flossing Facts and Fiction

You may have seen recent articles in which trusted news sources, such as the New York Times and Associated Press suggest that flossing your teeth is unnecessary. However, we at South Valley Pediatric dentistry stand with the American Dental association in recommending that our patients floss at least once a day. Why do dental professionals like those at South Valley Pediatric Dentistry still suggest daily flossing when news articles and statistical reviews claim that flossing doesn’t help? To answer that question I’ve compiled a list of facts and falsehoods surrounding the whole flossing issue.

Much of the current confusion about flossing comes from articles like this one from the New York Times, which make several questionable claims about flossing. Many of the points made by these articles perpetuate myths about flossing which need to be debunked.

Claim 1: The government doesn’t want you to floss anymore.

Status: FALSE – The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services did remove the recommendations for flossing from their 2015 dietary guidelines, but that doesn’t mean they’re telling you not to floss. They took flossing out of the dietary guidelines for two reasons: one, because they wanted the dietary guidelines to focus on nutrition (go figure), and two, because they had not conducted their own randomized clinical trial to test the effectiveness of flossing. The fact that the government has not tested flossing does not mean you shouldn’t do it. The phrase “a lack of evidence is not evidence of lack,” applies here. Or in other words, things that have not been proven, are not automatically false.

Claim 2: American Academy of Periodontology doesn’t want you to floss anymore.

Status: FALSE – The American Academy of Periodontology has stated that much of the current research on flossing is flawed or incomplete. This fact should inspire researchers to look more thoroughly into flossing instead of giving people a pass to not floss. The fact that the Times presents the lack of evidence on flossing as a reason to skip it altogether is irresponsible, as it may encourage unhealthy habits and lead to poor overall dental health.

Claim 3: The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews doesn’t want you to floss anymore.

Status: (Mostly) False – The Cochrane looked at 12 studies and found “unreliable evidence” that flossing helps prevent plaque. However, this review did support the claim that flossing can help. Researchers merely suggest that there is not a lot of evidence and that existing evidence is difficult to analyze because most people do not floss correctly. The solution then, is to learn to floss correctly, which has been proven to prevent tooth decay, rather than to give it up as a lost cause.

Claim 4: Flossing prevents gingivitis, but that doesn’t make a difference.

Status: (Mostly) True – Flossing has been seen to prevent gingivitis, swelling and bleeding of the gums. But the Times article also claims that gingivitis is not a serious condition and that flossing is not worth the work to prevent this condition. In reality, gingivitis can become problematic, painful and lead to more serious dental conditions. Preventing gingivitis is in fact one good reason to make flossing a daily habit.

Along with making the above assertions, articles like the one in the Times, brush over or outright ignore a few key facts about flossing such as:

  1. The American Dental Association still recommends flossing once a day.
  2. Flossing removes food particles from in between the teeth. Research does show that food particles remaining in contact with teeth leads to plaque buildup and tooth decay. Logically, removing food from between teeth will prevent dental problems. Some things are too obvious to extensively research. Like the grass being green, or the sun being hot, or the fact that flossing prevents tooth decay.
  3. Flossing is a low-risk, time effective way to protect your teeth. It is safe for most people and will add, at most, two or three minutes to your routine. You have nothing to loose from flossing, but potentially much to loose in giving it up.

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