The Debate over the Effectiveness of Flossing

Using dental floss

For more than 100 years, the American Dental Association has recommended flossing as part of a healthy dental hygiene regimen. Flossing is a part of nearly every professional dental exam, as dental hygienists demonstrate how to floss the teeth correctly. Recently, reports have surfaced challenging the validity of this long-time recommendation and countering that flossing is actually not as effective as the ADA and your dentist claim. Here, New Jersey Dentist Dr. Jerry Strauss explores the debate in more detail.

What The Associated Press Found

The federal government has recommended the practice of flossing for more than 35 years through a surgeon general’s report and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are released every five years. In order to issue a guideline, the government must have scientific evidence to back up the claim.

In 2015, The Associated Press asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture to release the evidence proving flossing is important to dental and periodontal (gum) health. In the government’s response to the AP, they admitted that they never researched the effectiveness of flossing; they also quietly dropped the recommendation from the most recent dietary guidelines.

The AP then looked at research surrounding flossing from the last decade — including studies specifically cited by the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology as proof that flossing prevents plaque buildup, gum inflammation and tooth decay. The AP concluded that these studies delivered weak, low-quality evidence. For example, the studies tested a small number of people, tested people after a single use of floss or did not track gum health over a significant amount of time. This has led to widespread media exposure proclaiming the ineffectiveness of flossing.

What Dentists Say

The AP’s findings are inconsistent with what nearly all dentists believe: flossing is important. In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Wayne Aldredge, the president of the American Academy of Periodontology, said that although the scientific evidence of flossing’s importance is weak, he still encourages all of his patients to floss to prevent gum disease. He compared not flossing to letting a house wither away. “It’s like building a house and not painting two sides of it. Ultimately, those two sides are going to rot away quicker,” Dr. Aldredge said.

Dr. Edmond R. Hewlett, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, said, “We’re confident that disturbing the bacteria in plaque with brushing and flossing is, indeed, beneficial.”

Dr. Strauss agrees with these dentists and encourages all of his patients to floss daily, in addition to brushing twice a day and scheduling yearly dental exams. To be most effective, Dr. Strauss recommends wrapping floss around each tooth in a C-shape and using gentle back-and-forth motions to scrape the sides of the tooth. It is also important to get below the gum line, where plaque can accumulate.

If you have a question about flossing or another dental hygiene habit, Dr. Strauss would be happy to discuss it with you. Please call or email Aesthetic Dental Care of New Jersey.


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