Recently the press, using inconclusive studies, has called into question the benefits of daily flossing and the routine use of other inter-dental cleaning devices such as oral irrigators, small dental picks, and wooden toothpicks.  The inconclusive nature of some research into the impact of regular flossing comes from small sample sizes, the short-term nature of some studies, and the subjectivity of the reports by participants.  Data supports the notion that most people who take part in these studies often lie about how often they brush and floss which in turn calls into question some of the findings about just how effective the daily practice may be.

As of the late months of 2016, the dietary and periodontal health guidelines for Americans issued by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services ceased to mention the necessity of daily flossing in their recommendations for healthy practices.  Come to find out, officials had undergone very limited research into the effectiveness of regular flossing and in most cases the studies were skewed by the combination of professional as well as personal cleanings.  The observations for long-term effects were limited to how few reports observed gum health over long periods of time.  In the majority of these studies, the use of fluoride was prevalent and may have had a drastic effect on the results.

So are we off the hook for flossing?  The short answer seems to be “no”.  A combination of routine brushing, somewhat regular flossing, the use of fluoride and mouthwash, and regularly scheduled routine check-ups with a dentist, does in fact reduce the risk of gum inflammation and periodontal diseases that can lead to tooth decay or the progression of bone-loss.  Severe periodontal diseases often take anywhere from 5 to 20 years to develop.  Waiting around until then for the results of a massive study only stands to do more harm than good.  Before abandoning the practice based on a news article or two, it may be a safe bet to consider the gamble.

Are there any negative effects to flossing?  Studies do not support that there are harmful effects to regular flossing, especially when participants followed the advice of professionals and had regular consultation with a dentist.  A series of trials found that when professional dental hygienists flossed the teeth of children regularly for over two years, there was a 40% reduction in the risk of cavities.  The difference in technique that professionals used involved proximity to the gum-line, better view of build-up (as opposed to squinting at a tiny bathroom mirror or painfully leaning over the bathroom sink), and the amount of time that they dedicated to the practice. So maybe you’re just not doing it completely right if you aren’t seeing expected results.

So maybe the old dental floss should remain in the line-up to prevent gingivitis and stop the build-up of plaque.  It is important to note, though, that no one behavior covers all, unless of course there is a dental hygienist or doctor examining and cleaning your pearly whites on a daily basis.  An award-winning and healthy smile requires attention and a good routine, so make the time to schedule an appointment with your dentist every few months, brush regularly and continue to floss at the advice of professionals.

Dr. David Redford is a dentist and dental health blogger for University Dental Arts