So, this is a tough one. I’ve never really been the dentist that drills his patients on the need to floss. There was a lot of discussion about flossing this summer in the wake of the article that cited several studies over recent years that reported a lack of data proving that flossing is effective preventative care.
It would appear that there is some traction to the article. Last month the latest dietary guidelines issued by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services quietly and without notice dropped any mention of flossing. At the same time, The Associated Press reported that officials had never critically researched the effectiveness of regular flossing.
Chances are your patients don’t read anything printed by the Department of Agriculture, but they certainly watch The Today Show and all of the other “light news” outlets that seem to delight in reporting the story. After all – everyone wants a pass on having to floss. It’s not fun nor pleasant.
A close look shows they are not saying flossing is not effective; just that there have never been any really good studies on the subject. I certainly believe there is more benefit to flossing over a random over-the-counter rinse, (I’m looking at you Listerine…), but often those benefits are because many people have places where they are getting food stuck between their teeth. Most of these situations can be effectively fixed by your dentist. Not only will this greatly reduce the chances of cavities and gum disease in those areas, YOU WILL DIVESTED OF THAT INFURIATING FEELING OF FOOD WEDGED BETWEEN YOUR TEETH!
(Could you tell that is one of my least favorite feelings?)
On the other side of the argument, my dad had his, “This Dentist is a Floss Boss” coffee mug. But, then again, he was advocating the use of hard bristled toothbrushes and scrubbing like a fiend! Anecdotally, his patients were found to be in an elite healthy minority periodontally. Maybe he was on to something?
Dad had his favorite sign in the office that read:
“You don’t have to floss all of your teeth, just the ones you want to keep”
So how does your friendly neighborhood Bryn Mawr dentist answer the inevitable question:
“Hey Doc! I heard that flossing doesn’t do anything! Do I even need to do it?”
Need is a strong word. If you’re getting food stuck between your teeth, YES! If not, it’s kind of the same answer I have for over-the-counter rinses, “It probably won’t hurt you, and it might help.”
The answer is also individualized in that if someone is getting cavities between their teeth their diet is probably paramount and flossing might be the only way to clean between them.
There are, however, numerous studies that show the benefit of stronger fluoride pastes that can help reduce cavities and other studies showing the benefits or prescription-strength rinses that have been shown to be effective to help fight periodontal disease.
Official answer, other things HAVE been shown to be effective, floss hasn’t, but it could help.