A recent article from the Associated Press indicating that there is little evidence to support flossing has caused a lot of ripples among dental professionals and patients alike. Flossing has been recommended by the Surgeon General since 1979 . However since the efficacy of flossing was not satisfactorily researched they could not officially recommend that it be done and thus the flossing recommendation was removed from the latest dietary guidelines that were released earlier this year.

It is important to note that a “lack of evidence” does not mean “evidence of a lack” of efficacy. Just because the research has not been done does not mean that one does not benefit from daily flossing. Flossing aims to remove plaque from in between the teeth where a toothbrush cannot reach and clean. Plaque is a sticky film that is constantly being laid down on teeth. Unless it is physically removed and scraped off the teeth, it will continue to build up and the bacteria in the plaque can cause cavities, gingivitis and potentially lead to bone loss as well (periodontitis).

Good quality, long-term studies are needed where flossers and non-flossers are followed in a controlled environment to evaluate the effect of flossing on gum and tooth health and compare that to what happens in people who do not floss. Because periodontitis and cavity formation is a slow process, studies need to be done over many years and with a large sample size. These studies are very costly and too often money in research is spent on more hot topic issues than gingivitis and plaque. So, until the proper evidence becomes available, you may want to consider flossing anyway – there is little to no drawback if you do floss, but the potential harm you could do yourself if you don’t floss can be serious!

Dr. Melody Ward