One of the first things you’re asked when you visit the dentist is whether you floss regularly. For decades, dentists nationwide—and the American Dental Association—have been recommending that patients floss at least once per day to help remove plaque and food buildup in order to reduce the risk of gingivitis, gum disease, and tooth decay. But recently, flossing has come under fire. An article posted by the Associated Press claimed that the scientific evidence supporting the necessity of daily flossing is unreliable. Since then, both the Department of Agriculture, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, have removed mentions of flossing from the latest dietary guidelines for Americans.
Despite the controversy, the majority of dentists and periodontists—including us here at My Family Dentistry—recommend that you continue to floss regularly. Here’s why.
Plaque: the enemy of a healthy mouth
Made of saliva and leftover food particles that stick to your teeth, plaque is chock full of bad bacteria that can put you at risk for tooth decay and gum disease. When plaque remains on your teeth for a few days, it hardens to form tartar—a smelly yellow substance that has to be scraped off by your dentist. The more plaque builds up, the harder it is to get rid of.
More than 80% of American adults suffer from gum diseases caused by plaque buildup. It eats away at the protective enamel on your teeth, which can cause cavities and tooth decay.
Plaque can form anywhere in your mouth—on the surfaces of your teeth and gums, or between them. Unfortunately, brushing your teeth does not quite solve the plaque problem.
How does flossing work?
The majority of dental diseases—periodontitis, gingivitis, etc.—begin between the teeth. Dr. Steven Glassman, a dentist in New York City, recently told CBS News, “I’m practicing dentistry for 26 years… We see it in our patients every day. The ones that don’t floss build up more inflammation between their teeth. Brushing alone [does] really well at removing plaque above the gum line and on the outer surfaces and biting surfaces of the teeth, but it’s in between that we can’t really get to.”
In between is where flossing comes in.
Here’s why: a toothbrush cleans the surfaces of your teeth and gums, and mouthwash can kill the bad bacteria lurking inside your mouth. But neither toothbrushes nor mouthwash are interdental cleaners—they do not clean between your teeth, where plaque, tartar, and bits of food can build up and cause bacterial infection, gum disease, gingivitis, and other health issues.
Dr. Wayne Aldredge, president of the American Academy of Periodontology and nationally recognized leader in the field of periodontology, acknowledges the weakness of previous scientific studies on flossing, but continues to advocate for his patients to floss daily.
He believes that the only reason there haven’t been more substantial studies on the positive effect of floss is the lack of funding. “If somebody wants to give our scientists at the dental schools $20 million,” he said in an interview for FiOS1 News, “we can do a study for 20 to 30 years and I’ll tell you they’ll find [flossing] effective.”
Should I keep flossing?
Yes, absolutely. After the AP article was published, LiveScience interviewed several dentists, health analysts, and other dental experts, and every single one insisted that people should continue to floss daily.
Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a spokesman for the American Dental Association and professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, said, “The Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to not include flossing in its recent recommendations should not indicate that the importance of flossing is any less than it ever has been…. Just because there is a lack of strong evidence, that does not mean that there’s no effectiveness.”
It’s simple. The majority of dental diseases begin between the teeth. Toothbrushes and mouthwash are not interdental cleaners. The only way to get rid of dangerous plaque buildup between your teeth is to floss on a regular basis.
Think of it like cleaning your house. Wiping down surfaces and spraying air freshener works just fine—but you’ll always feel better if you vacuum under the furniture.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our team at My Family Dentistry! We offer a host of services to keep your teeth and gums healthy in a relaxing, spa-like atmosphere. Schedule your next appointment today to learn more.