Dentists are not happy about the recent Associated Press study on flossing.
“Frustrating is the word most dentists and hygienists I’ve spoken with use when describing the Associated Press report questioning the value of flossing,” Dr. Tim Pruett, a dentist based in Florida, wrote in an article for Medical Daily.
“Brushing only cleans three of five exposed tooth surfaces, or 60 percent of the tooth,” Pruett explained. “By not flossing, you’re missing the forgotten 40 percent and at greater risk for interdental decay; not to mention gum disease and a host of other issues.”
“I always hoped more people would talk about flossing — but never like this!” Andrew Swiatowicz, a dentist from Delaware, blogged.
“We know that our patients don’t love flossing. In fact, we know they’d rather spend the time doing other things — like cleaning a toilet,” wrote Swiatowicz. “To be honest, I am not even the world’s most reliable flosser. However, when I floss and see plaque or a tiny bit of dinner dislodge from between my teeth, I can’t deny that I have done something beneficial for my oral health.”
“That’s the thing about flossing. It’s a common sense thing to do. If you don’t floss, you only clean 60 percent of your teeth’s surfaces. Imagine you left 40 percent of your body unshowered. Even if there were a couple articles circulating around Twitter about how that might be OK, wouldn’t you still feel gross about your hygiene?”
The Fuss About Floss
Dental hygienists and dentists – plus everyone from the Department of Health and Human Services to the American Dental Association – have for decades recommended daily flossing to keep your mouth and teeth healthy. But earlier this summer, a report from the Associated Press (AP) indicated that there may be no medical benefits associated with flossing.
The AP requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide evidence to back up claims that flossing has medical benefits. The agencies did not have the data to back up any claims regarding the need to floss. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged that the long touted benefits of flossing are not properly backed up by scientific research.
The AP reviewed five analyses of 25 studies comparing the use of a toothbrush versus the use of a toothbrush and floss and found that the data supporting the health benefits of flossing is “very unreliable” and of “very low” quality. One study review conducted last year found that “The majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal.”
But perhaps that’s because we’re doing it wrong. Dentists point to studies such as “Dental Flossing and Interproximal Caries: a System Review,” where researchers wanted to see whether flossing at home had the same health benefits as being flossed by professionals. They recruited 808 children aged four to 13 and split them into three groups: kids professionally flossed five days a week; kids professionally flossed once every three months; and kids who self-reported flossing at home.
The study lasted 18 months, and – no surprise – those who were flossed professionally five days a week had a 40 percent decrease in their risk for cavities. The other two groups, those flossed professionally once every three months and self-reported home flossers, didn’t show any decrease of cavity risk.
So, assuming you don’t have a daily appointment with a professional flosser, what should you do? Learn how to use that dental floss correctly.
The AP report is an excellent piece of journalism. That said, even if there is no scientific proof, it seems obvious that flossing is a very effective way to remove debris from between your teeth.
“There’s only so many research dollars and so much research effort,” said Dr. Matthew Messina, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Nobody’s done a study to say that using a parachute jumping out of an airplane is safer than not using a parachute,” Messina continued. “I’m still going to use a parachute, because we just know that that’s going to work. It’s all about putting it into perspective.”
Another thing: whether you floss or not, you need to get regular professional cleanings. Even people who are super-dedicated to good oral hygiene will inevitably miss a bit of plaque here and there, which can harden into tartar. Removing tartar is not something that you can do at home, without risking the chance that you’ll cause more dental damage with abrasive toothpastes or DIY dentistry tricks. Dental hygienists know how to remove the gunk that causes decay and gum infections safely.
If you’ve been skipping regular professional cleanings due to budget concerns, check your dental insurance policy. Many cover cleanings and checkups 100% – so there’s no cost to get regular preventive care.
No insurance? Have a look at dental savings plans, the affordable alternative to traditional dental insurance, were designed to make dental care affordable for everyone. Plan members save 10%-60% on the typical cost of dental care and treatments at a nationwide network of more than 100,000 dentists. Many dental savings plans also cover the total cost of regular checkups and cleanings, or provide big discounts on these services.
Find out more about dental savings plans at dentalplans.com, or by calling 1-800-238-5163.