Forget the Floss? Not So Fast
As published 8/9/16 by The Seattle Times: Recent news reports questioning the effectiveness of dental floss do a disservice to the health of children and adults in our community.
Like most dentists, I was shocked by the suggestion that our patients could consider discontinuing the use of dental floss. As anyone who has ever had a berry seed or popcorn kernel wedged between their teeth knows, flossing can provide real (and immediate) relief.
What’s more, leaving that food in your mouth can encourage the growth of bacteria, causing tooth decay and gum disease. That means cavities, bleeding gums and a host of even more serious problems.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that cleaning between teeth with interdental cleaners, including floss, is an important oral-hygiene practice that, coupled with brushing teeth and professional cleanings, has been shown to disrupt and remove plaque.
Yes, we can always learn from more significant scientific research. The Associated Press story found that most studies on flossing involved too few test subjects or didn’t last long enough to yield conclusive results. But that says more about the quality of the research than it does about the effectiveness of using dental floss regularly.
As dentists, we work to develop long-term relationships with our patients. If anyone were in a position to track the impact of flossing on oral health, it would be a dentist.
A patient’s mouth can offer a first glimpse into other factors that can impact a patient’s overall health. Pale and bleeding gums can be a marker for blood disorders. Changes in tooth appearance can indicate eating disorders. It is also well documented that major chronic diseases—including diabetes, cancer and heart disease—share common risk factors with oral disease.
Gum disease is much more common than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all adults age 30 and older have some form of gum disease. That number jumps to 70 percent for those age 65 and older.
Just the presence of bacteria in your mouth can start all sorts of trouble. It’s estimated there are more than 500 bacterial species in tooth plaque. Some are good bacteria that help with digestion. Other bacteria are bad, and when combined with food, liquids and other components, form plaque around the teeth and gum line. Bacteria from the mouth also can cause infection in other parts of the body if a patient’s immune system is compromised by disease or other medical treatments.
Basically, the more you do to keep your teeth, gums and mouth healthy, the more you can help stay healthy. And what is one of the easiest ways to do that?
You guessed it: using that little piece of string regularly, in concert with daily tooth brushing and timely visits to your dentist to identify and address any problems early.
So don’t ditch those little boxes of floss just yet. And when you do happen to floss that corn kernel or berry seed away, take comfort in knowing you’re doing a small thing to make a big difference in your overall health.
There is absolutely no reason to dismiss a preventive tool that is as cheap, easy and effective as floss. A little preventive maintenance can’t hurt.
Dr. Bryan Edgar, president of the Washington State Dental Association, has been a practicing dentist for more than 35 years.