Recently there has been a lot of debate about the benefits of flossing. More and more studies are suggesting that flossing has little to no benefit, and outlets like Forbes and The New York Times are writing stories to help people feel better about the fact they don't floss enough. So we thought we'd tackle the subject for ourselves, and shed a little light on the debate. The short answer - flossing is still a prudent thing to do, and it should remain part of your cleaning routine.
The Roll Of Floss
Every time you come in for a checkup, you'll hear your dentist ask if you've been flossing regularly. They ask because floss performs a vital function that neither a toothbrush or mouthwash can address. Floss cleans the tight spaces between your teeth, and it helps remove food particles and tartar that would otherwise be left between your teeth after you brush. If these food particles were left untouched, especially in those hard to reach places where the toothbrush can't reach, they can cause the early stages of gingivitis. Even if there is only a potential benefit to fighting gingivitis, flossing is worth your time.
What The Studies Say
There have been several scientific studies centered around the effectiveness of floss performed in the last 10 years or so. One of the latest studies, quoted below, concisely describes the outcome of a wide study of patients:
"There is some evidence from 12 studies that flossing in addition to toothbrushing reduces gingivitis compared to toothbrushing alone. There is weak, very unreliable evidence from 10 studies that flossing plus toothbrushing may be associated with a small reduction in plaque at one and three months."
Essentially this means that there is no strong evidence that flossing helps reduce plaque in the data extracted from the study. This does not mean that flossing has been found to be a waste of time, only that its impact might not be as significant as we originally thought. As with any research, new, long-term studies will have to be conducted to test the results of the short term studies.
Bottom line - it may not be as important as we thought, but no one is 100% sure of that given the data we have now. You see this with a lot of studies. Coffee is good for you, or then again maybe it's bad for you. The list goes on and on. Determining the true value of anything requires a lot of independent studies and carefully controlled variables. For now we're not sure about flossing, but we know it's not harmful when done right. It is certainly not worth the risk to stop, especially since it only takes a few minutes out of your day.
How To Floss Correctly
It is not very difficult to floss correctly, and you may be doing it right already. First, take a length of 18 or so inches of floss, and secure it on both ends by wrapping it around the index finger of both hand. Slide the floss gently in between each tooth, and don't jam it down on to your gums. Gently bend the floss in one direction and make a "C" shape, or really more of a curve, and move the floss up and down to remove plaque and food particles. Then change direction and work on the other side of the tooth. Once finished, move the floss strand to a fresh section and begin again on the next gap. Never pull the floss through you're teeth in a back and forth motion (imagine the motion you use to shine your shoes) as this can damage your teeth.
Ok so really flossing may not have as big of an impact as we once thought, but don't toss the habit or think it's fine to skip it. The potential benefits far outweigh the negatives (there really are none), and you'll brush better and have fresher breath if you get all those food particles out of there anyway.
Need some tips on proper flossing techniques or which type to use? Stop in to Grace & Leedy for a cleaning and we'd be happy to explain.