dental floss tied around tooth

To Floss or Not to Floss? The Decision That Has You in Knots

dental floss tied around toothWe know: You never liked to floss in the first place – well, unless you were trying to remove a chunk of something wedged between your teeth. And you’re a bit tired of going to the hygienist every six months and getting schooled all over again in proper technique.

So you were probably thrilled to hear about the recent AP story that got spun to say, “Guess what! You don’t need to floss!” No proven medical benefit from flossing? Sounds like the perfect reason to skip off into the sunshine of happy, floss-free Neverland.

But that’s outweighed by reasons to actually keep right on flossing.

  1. Flossing, as an oral hygiene technique, was invented nearly 200 years ago as a common sense approach to cleaning as thoroughly as possible. The AP investigation really didn’t say flossing didn’t work, just that the research to date doesn’t clearly prove it. (In fact, other research has shown that the evidence for most medical and dental practices is surprisingly lacking.)

  2. Just as you wash between your toes when you shower so your feet don’t stink, flossing reduces odor-generating bacteria. Don’t believe us? Just run that floss between your teeth and smell it. Just as people back away when someone takes off their shoes, if you notice them backing away from you when you talk, you probably could benefit from a daily flossing habit.

  3. Technique and habit are everything. Flossing incorrectly can actually damage gum tissue, cutting it. Proper flossing – wrapping it around the tooth in the shape of a C while shimming against each side of the tooth – will remove plaque easily missing by brushing alone.

  4. When it comes to cleaning between your teeth, if you don’t like floss, find something you do like. There are many other types of interdental cleaners and techniques – oral irrigators (e.g., Waterpik), Rotadent interproximal cleaners, proxy brushes and more. All are effective at removing plaque and disrupting the formation of bacterial colonies.

  5. Gum disease is a slow, progressive disease. Most studies are fairly short term. But we do have clinical observation and evidence. And what that tells us is that flossing does indeed work – and that not flossing is a real factor in the development of oral disease.

So keep flossing – or start flossing. Regularly. Your teeth – and gums and body and brain – will thank you over the long haul.

For more on why you should probably keep flossing, despite what the AP says, check out this excellent overview at Wired.

Image by Nicole Hanusek, via Flickr