Over the past week, substantial media coverage has been devoted to the federal government’s removal of flossing from its newest dietary guidelines after decades of declaring that flossing was integral in the prevention of tooth decay and gum disease.
So if you’re a regular flosser, should you continue to include flossing in your dental hygiene routine? And if you’re one of the many Americans who doesn’t floss regularly but is concerned about your oral health, should you even bother? The reasons for dropping dental floss from official health recommendations may be based on science (or lack thereof), but flossing still offers plenty of benefits.
The Loss of Floss
The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, which jointly establish the dietary guidelines used by other agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, cut all mention of dental floss from their latest recommendations. According to an Aug. 3 article in The New York Times, federal officials never conducted the necessary research into flossing as a preventive measure before encouraging Americans to floss at least once daily.
The same article states that the American Academy of Periodontology lacked sufficient evidence to support a specific flossing recommendation because of a shortage of study subjects and a dearth of research that examined the effects of flossing on gum health over an extended period of time. A 2011 study suggested only “unreliable” evidence that flossing may reduce the plaque that leads to cavities and gum disease.
Don’t Toss the Floss Just Yet
The subject has generated much debate, in part because the reasoning behind the flossing recommendation is sound, even if the science remains inconclusive. (People have also had some fun with the topic; The New York Times followed up its article with a list of alternate uses for dental floss which includes cutting a cake, stringing a guitar, and escaping prison.)
The American Dental Association (ADA) maintains that flossing is “an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.” The ADA and many in the oral health field believe that the use of dental floss or interdental cleaners (aka floss picks or dental picks) helps disrupt and remove plaque that brushing alone cannot.
Benefits of Dental Floss
There’s an old dental joke that you don’t have to floss all of your teeth, just the ones you want to keep. In its response to the federal guidelines, the ADA notes that prior research has shown flossing is effective at removing the particles that eventually lead to plaque and gum inflammation.
Even the 2011 research indicated that regular flossing reduces instances of bloody gums and the early form of gum disease known as gingivitis, which causes gum inflammation and irritation. Because gingivitis can progress to severe gum disease without treatment, it is logical that if instances of gingivitis can be reduced, so can periodontal disease that eventually leads to tooth loss and bone loss.
Flossing also helps remove those embarrassing, visible food remnants that can become stuck between the teeth or in dental work. Just because the official guidelines no longer insist that you floss at least once daily doesn’t mean that you (and your smile) don’t have something to gain.
Rockland County dentist Dr. Mark Dunayer is dedicated to helping patients restore and maintain beautiful, healthy smiles. If you’re in need of a checkup or considering cosmetic dentistry treatment, please call B & D Dental Excellence at (845) 262-2265 to schedule your appointment at our West Nyack, NY, office.