Does Flossing Really Work?
The Associated Press (AP) published (August 2016) the results of their investigation of flossing benefits when combined with regular tooth brushing. The AP reviewed 25 research studies, compiled over the past 10 years, that focused on the advantages of flossing and brushing compared to brushing alone. Their conclusion: Flossing has little or no effect on removing plaque or encouraging healthy gums.
Their report highlights a 2015 study that states “inconsistent/weak evidence” of the value of flossing and brushing. The AP also noted that both the 2010 and 2015 editions of Dietary Guidelines for Americans (published every five years) by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), eliminated the prior recommendation for flossing.
Yet, the American Dental Association (ADA) continues its support for flossing, stating that it removes plaque, which helps avoid gum inflammation (gingivitis) and tooth loss. After evaluating 12 studies focused on flossing, Cochrane.org identified “some evidence” supporting the ADA position. However, Cochrane also stated it found “weak, very unreliable evidence” from 10 of the 12 studies that flossing could remove plaque “after one or three months,” along with zero evidence that prove flossing controls tooth decay.
According to the New York Times (August 2, 2016) supports the AP that flossing may be overrated in preventing cavities and creating healthy gums. Both the USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) admitted not researching the benefits of flossing as a daily regimen before recommending that all Americans should floss.
The ADA Recommendation To Floss Still Stands
However, there are many who continue supporting the ADA and dental community position that flossing and brushing regularly are more effective than brushing alone. For example, the American Academy of Periodontology, agreeing that the preponderance of current evidence wasn’t conclusive, states that there is a good reason for this result. This group maintains that previous studies did not include sufficient participants nor did this research “examine gum health over a significant amount of time.”
This new information affected numerous guilt-ridden Americans who apparently fail to make good on their promises to their trusted dentists to floss daily. It seems they don’t know whether to cheer or support their dentists’ recommendations to floss regularly.
The ADA remains firm, however. Their website still proclaims flossing “is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.” A group spokesperson for the association also said, “We’re confident that disturbing the bacteria in plaque with brushing and flossing is, indeed, beneficial.”
The bottom line
There are gaps in the benefits of flossing. However, dental professionals still recommend daily flossing, along with brushing to avoid the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. The question is who is right?
Until or unless the medical community takes one side or the other, the “jury is still out.” Unless the review studies become incontrovertible, the debate will rage on. Those that support the dental professionals have good reasons, since dentists treat patients every day – and should know. However, researchers, with “no horse in the race,” can be objective in their reports.
Stay tuned to see which side eventually prevails.
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My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.