Flossgate: Do You REALLY Have to Floss?
As a registered dental hygienist, I have received many questions from excited patients about recent media reports that claim daily flossing is unnecessary. These articles claim that flossing may be “overrated” (thank you, New York Times). I have had so much interest in these reports lately that I have decided to write this blog post to address it once and for all! Before you toss your floss, please consider these important facts that the media left out!
The articles were inspired by a statement released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that the benefits of flossing have not been properly researched. This does not mean that flossing does not benefit your health. It simply means that a long-term peer-reviewed study has not been completed yet. Periodontal disease acts slowly and requires a large sample size of patients be followed for several years in order for the studies to be adequate. The Department of Health and Human Services actually released another statement directly to the American Dental Association (ADA) declaring,
"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.”
There are over 500 different kinds of bacteria in your mouth at all times. They combine with water and food debris to form what we call “dental plaque”, which often builds up around the teeth and along the gum line. When left untouched, the bacteria can lead to cavities and periodontal (gum) disease. We recommend brushing twice daily, flossing once daily, and incorporating an over the counter rinse at least once daily in order to reduce the plaque buildup on a daily basis.
While brushing alone removes a lot of the debris and makes your mouth feel clean, flossing is a vital addition for better overall oral health. It allows for the removal of the dental plaque and bacteria hiding between your teeth that cannot normally be reached by your toothbrush bristles. The removal of this bacteria on a daily basis will reduce your risk of cavities between the teeth and periodontal disease.
Flossing Technique is Very Important!
Flossing incorrectly can be ineffective or even cause harm to the tissues. Be careful when you are flossing to use the proper “C-shaped” technique for best results (see the video below for help). Flossing harshly, snapping it between the teeth, or using a sawing motion can actually damage your tissue and cause what are called “floss cuts”.
If you still notice bleeding with gentle brushing and flossing techniques please remember that healthy gums do NOT bleed! This bleeding may indicate that you are experiencing an active gum infection and you should see your dental hygienist to find out how to address it!
Don’t like to floss? There are TONS of alternatives.
Research has now led the dental community to tailor our home care instructions to your oral health, anatomy, and preferences. We can teach you about many alternatives to flossing, including oral irrigators like the WaterPik (see below for more information)!
What do you think? I challenge anyone reading this to try flossing or using a WaterPik once daily for three weeks and tell me that their oral health has not noticeably improved. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.