Dr. Pettit’s Tips for Healthy Living: The Deal with Flossing

03B66033 (1)This month, I want to respond to a recent news release which has created quite the stir in the dental hygiene world. I’m referring to the Associated Press release of a report stating that flossing has no proven benefits. In case you have been wondering where we stand on flossing, let me be clear. Flossing correctly has tremendous benefits.

It concerns me that national news is releasing blanket statements based on limited review, without providing context or citing the studies reviewed. An article of this quality in a peer reviewed journal would be thrown out. The news releases from this AP report target the emotion of the reader, trying to create controversy, draw attention, and enlist readers. They have been very successful at this.

Basic microbiology demonstrates the importance of disrupting bacterial layers adhered to tooth surfaces, especially in cavity prevention and in periodontal inflammation. These are disease processes well understood by the scientific community.

Hygiene is still important, and no-one is questioning whether brushing your teeth is beneficial. The question is, does flossing give any added benefit to brushing your teeth? Studies in twins* have shown that flossing greatly reduces the levels of bacteria which cause cavities and periodontal disease. Still, there aren’t very many well controlled randomized trials demonstrating clinical effect.

One reason science hasn’t invested resources into answering this question is probably because it is a matter of common sense. As one hygienist has commented**, we don’t see any scientific articles backing up the efficacy of toilet paper. The department of Health and Human Services and Agriculture has not given us recommendations on the matter, and if said toilet paper were to be used incorrectly, the research would probably show it is ineffective as well. But do we still use it? Of course!

The truth is, flossing probably isn’t very beneficial to many of us. The reason is due to incorrect technique. As one study shows*, being flossed regularly by a dental professional makes a huge difference, particularly when it comes to cavity prevention between your teeth. However, children in this study who flossed on their own were not statistically any better off in protecting from cavities than those who didn’t floss at all. So even if you floss at home, if you aren’t doing it right, it won’t do you much good. Discuss flossing at your next dental cleaning with your hygienist!

At Medcenter TMJ, we are interested in the health of your jaws and mouth. Please ask our staff about flossing tips and techniques. We want to be sure you are effective with your home oral hygiene. We encourage you to continue striving for excellent oral hygiene, as this will only support the health of your TMJ.

Nathan J. Pettit DMD, MSD


*Corby et al. Treatment outcomes of dental flossing in twins: molecular analysis of the interproximal microflora. J Periodontol. 2008 Aug;79(8):1426-33.

**Kara Vavrosky, RDH. Is the Associated Press right? Response to the AP regarding the benefits of flossing.Dental Products Report.

***Hujoel  et al. Dental flossing and interproximal caries: a systematic review. J Dent Res. 2006 Apr;85(4):298-305.

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