Don’t Toss Your Dental Floss

Charleston Gazette Mail, Opinion Page - Section 5A

The milestone in excellent health care.

Perhaps, like me, you were surprised to read the news story a couple of weeks ago that using dental floss is neither an effective or even necessary part of your daily oral hygiene regimen.

An Associated Press report headlined “Medical Benefits of Floss Unproven” reports that the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer recommend flossing.

The AP reporter noticed that flossing is no longer recommended and asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for their evidence and then followed up with written requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The federal government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been fully researched. Since federal law requires that the dietary guidelines be evidence-based and the effectiveness of flossing hadn’t actually been researched properly, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made a deliberate decision to focus on food and nutrient intake (i.e., added sugar) instead.

Since then, the story has been circulating on social media. Many readers and news outlets have drawn conclusions that simply are not accurate. Some have even referred to floss as “useless” or gone so far to call it a “scam” for dental companies to sell products to the public.

So why does your dentist and dental hygienist recommend flossing? Because we see the results of people who do not floss daily. As a practicing dentist for more than 10 years, I can promise you that dental floss is far from useless and not just a marketing ploy.

When a patient who doesn’t floss regularly comes to me, I frequently see cavities between the teeth, bleeding gum tissue, and inflammation. These are conditions that could be prevented simply by flossing every day prior to bed along with brushing twice daily.

Flossing helps prevent tooth decay, maintains gum health, and can improve total body health. Some patients come to our office after being referred by their physicians for a preoperative workup for organ transplant or joint replacement. Cancer patients prior to treatment are asked by their doctors to have an oral exam. Cardiologists refer patients to assist in managing cardiovascular health. These physicians know that what happens in the mouth can have direct effects on the rest of the body.

In my office patients are shown their teeth and gums on computer monitors. It gives me the ability to show before and after pictures of the improvements they experience once a hygiene regimen of daily flossing has been adopted.

Yet as much as we can see the signs of good (and bad) dental health, it may be what we can’t see that is of most detriment to our total body health.

More than 500 bacterial species can be found in the mouth; some are good and some are bad.

Harmful bacteria can cause infection, inflammation, tissue damage, not to mention bad breath.

In fact, this inflammation is now linked to serious health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Tooth decay and gum disease can also develop along with this inflammation when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly half of all adults (47 percent) age 30 and older have some form of periodontal, or gum, disease. By age 65 and older, approximately 70 percent of adults have periodontal disease.

When we limit dental hygiene to just brushing our teeth, we are disrupting a community of bacteria on only 70 percent of our mouth’s surface – leaving untouched the 30 percent found between our teeth.

To maintain good oral health, the American Dental Association continues to recommend brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between your teeth once a day with floss, eating a balanced diet, and visiting your dentist regularly.

My professional opinion on dental floss rests with the evidence I see clinically everyday in my practice.

Think of it this way: a package of dental floss costs you a few dollars and flossing takes a few minutes every day. That’s a much lower cost in time and money than you’ll pay for not flossing, when you spend hours in the dentist chair and perhaps thousands of dollars for dental services all the while improving your total body health.

Stick with the original recommendation. Include flossing as part of your daily routine because your smile is worth it.

Joshua P. Chapman, DDS, is a partner in the Chapman & Puderbaugh Family and Cosmetic Dentistry practice in South Charleston.