Do you really need to floss? | Irvine general dentist
Do you really need to floss? – Irvine general dentist
Flossing has long been considered a mainstay of oral hygiene, and a crucial habit for maintaining your oral health. However, some people have heard that flossing’s importance has been questioned. Over the past year, several news organizations have run reports claiming that flossing actually has no benefits and should be skipped. (For example, the New York Times ran this piece in August 2016.) Is this true? Is there any reason to continue flossing?
Mixed results on studies of flossing at home
The news reports concerned a report on the available literature conducted by the Associated Press (AP), a news organization, which requested the available scientific literature from the relevant departments of the US government. After reviewing 25 studies of flossing, the AP concluded that there was no solid evidence that flossing reduces the risk of dental decay. This report was picked up on by the press and spread widely, which is why we had quite a few patients asking us whether they really needed to floss.
The report by the Associated Press is not the only empirical investigation of flossing. There is research that indicates flossing to be a beneficial activity. A 2011 systematic review of the scientific literature, performed by the Cochrane Oral Health Group, showed that those who flossed regularly did have a lower incidence of periodontitis (gum disease). Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the U.S., and is a very common condition. However, according to the Cochrane group, “Trials were of poor quality and conclusions must be viewed as unreliable.”
Dr. Tim Iafolla, a dentist who conducts research at the National Institutes of Health, acknowledged in a 2016 interview that there is not much scientific evidence for flossing. However, he stated, “Weak evidence for flossing doesn’t mean that flossing is ineffective; it just means there isn’t positive evidence for flossing.” He went on to state that he still recommends flossing to patients, because it’s low-cost and low-risk. Even if the benefits are small, it makes sense to err on the side of caution and continue to floss.
Flossing by a professional is effective
When considering academic studies of flossing, it’s very important to keep in mind that most studies of flossing simply ask people to self-report about their flossing. Many people have never been taught how to floss well. Even if they do know how, not everyone takes the time to actually do it properly.
In one landmark 2006 study, carried out by Dr. Pujoel and colleagues at the University of Washington, children were randomized to receive flossing by a professional five times per week, to floss on their own at home daily, or not to receive any instructions about flossing. Those who flossed on their own didn’t show any benefit compared to the group that was not instructed to floss. However, those who received flossing by a dental hygienist five times a week showed a 40% decrease in cavities. This demonstrates that, when done correctly, flossing can be effective.
At your next appointment, ask your hygienist for flossing tips. This information may help you to maintain your oral health for years to come, which certainly makes it worth taking a few minutes to learn more.
Other interdental cleaning methods
Although it appears that flossing is effective at cleaning the spaces between teeth if it is done correctly, there are some patients who dislike flossing. Research has demonstrated that many patients do not floss because they find it uncomfortable, difficult, or boring.
Fortunately, there are several other methods of cleaning the interdental spaces (the spaces between the teeth). Interdental brushes are small, disposable brushes that are inserted between the teeth. Water flossers use a strong stream of water in order to clean between the teeth. Rubber-tipped or wooden dental cleaners can also be used. In some cases, when compared with flossing, these methods have been shown in research to be just as effective or even more so.
If you don’t like flossing, then using one of these methods to clean the spaces between your teeth may be a better option for you. At your next visit, ask your oral hygienist to discuss these additional methods of maintaining excellent oral hygiene.
Oral hygiene is important
Whether you choose flossing or another method, cleaning thoroughly between your teeth is a necessary part of any oral hygiene routine. Make sure that you also visit us for a professional cleaning every six months, which will remove bacterial growth that you have been unable to address on your own.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about oral hygiene, contact Dr. Levine at your earliest convenience. To schedule your appointment with Dr. Levine, your Irvine general dentist, please contact our office.