Toss the Floss?

“Flossing has no proven benefits, so U. S. Health Department stops recommending the practice” states the title of an article brought to my attention by a few of my patients a couple of weeks ago. Of course, with a title like that I had to find the article and read it for myself. After about three seconds on the internet (thanks Google) I found it. The article is more focused the poor study methodology and data interpretation bias. The article suggest that in order for the U. S. Health Dept. to officially recommend something a prerequisite of supporting scientific studies must exist and the studies of the effectiveness of flossing have an abundance of problems. This revelation of junk science comes as no surprise to me. There was an elective course I studied in college that turned out to be a little gem. The course consisted of the critical analysis of research papers published in one of the most prestigious biological journals. However, my purpose here is not to critique the studies or the article but to discuss what we can actually gain by flossing.

The first thing we must understand is that there is no lack of evidence, scientific or otherwise, that supports the evidence of plaque (gunk that builds up on your teeth) removal from your teeth by brushing is beneficial to your oral health as well as your systemic health. Let us not forget the benefits to our social standings. Why do we need to remove plaque from our teeth? First: “I love your smile and the way the light shines off your plaque…” said no person… EVER! Society thinks plaque is gross, so keep it off your teeth. Second: Plaque contains hundreds of types of bacteria, some of them are harmful. Harmful to your teeth, harmful to your gums, harmful to the bone that hold your teeth in place and harmful to many of your systemic organs. We achieve keeping plaque off our teeth by brushing several times a day. Just as in sweeping the floor, as soon as you finish dirt starts to accumulate, so it is with your teeth and plaque. When we brush our teeth we brush the front side, the backside and the topside. That just leaves in between the teeth that needs to be brushed but the toothbrush bristles cannot adequately reach in between the teeth. That is where flossing comes in. By rubbing the floss up and down the sides of our teeth we remove the plaque from in between our teeth. In other words, the floss is nothing more that a skinny toothbrush bristle.

Using floss is not the only way to remove plaque. As my patients and staff can tell you, I’m a huge proponent of using a water pik. Arguably the water pik is much more effective than string floss. Especially when dealing with deep gingival pockets and oral appliances such as braces. The water pik simply acts as a pressure washer for your teeth. Whether you choose to use string floss or a water pik it is to your advantage to keep the plaque off your teeth.