Three years ago, the Associated Press published an article that appeared to discredit something most of us are told twice a year by our dentists. The article looked at 25 studies on flossing and determined they pretty much all failed to find solid scientific evidence that flossing provides any benefits over brushing alone. In other words, flossing isn’t essential.
It was the shot heard round the dental hygiene world. About two-thirds of Americans claim to floss in general and a bit less than half of them do it daily, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control survey. The remaining one-third likely feel guilty that they don’t, at least after visiting the dentist.
But do the AP findings, which reverberated widely through the mainstream media, really vindicate non-flossers, and free up several minutes of tedious nighttime habit for the rest of us?
Not according to dentists. “A lot of people hate doing it, but you have to floss,” says Timothy Hempton, DDS, an adjunct associate clinical professor at Tuft University’s dental school. “It’s the most effective way to remove the material between teeth that toothbrushes can’t reach.” The American Dental Association recommends cleaning between teeth with floss (or another interdental cleaner) once a day.
Nightly flossing — done right — is probably the best way to remove plaque and reduce gingivitis.
Misconceptions and confusion
It’s worth trying to get this issue right, because there are significant health risks at stake. Contrary to popular belief, flossing doesn’t prevent cavities — they’re prevented by brushing with fluoridated toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water. But flossing does help prevent gingivitis, which is a more serious health threat. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, caused by bacteria taking hold between the teeth at the gum line, forming a tough, sticky “plaque.” That inflammation significantly increases the risk of periodontitis, or loss of the bone that holds the teeth in place, According to research, it’s also…