How many times has your dentist stressed the importance of daily flossing?
Dentists have advocated flossing for decades, along with daily brushing and annual cleanings. Flossing appeared in the surgeon general’s report in 1979. Then, in 1990, it was added to the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, where it’s remained for 35 years.
Interestingly, in the 2015-2020 edition, flossing isn’t mentioned – anywhere.
What does this mean? Should you discontinue daily flossing? What does research show about the importance of flossing?
Read on to learn why flossing was removed from the Dietary Guidelines and what it means for your oral care routine.
What the Experts Say
By law, any recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines must be backed up by scientific evidence.
For example, the guidelines suggest reducing sugar in your diet to improve your oral health. There are countless research studies that support the fact that sugar is harmful to your teeth.
With that in mind, what have researchers discovered about flossing? Let’s consider some recent studies.
2011 Cochrane Review
This collection of 12 studies compared the benefits of brushing and flossing to brushing alone. Those who brushed and flossed daily were less likely to develop gingivitis than brushers only. This is a noteworthy point, since gingivitis can lead to more serious conditions like periodontitis.
However, researchers found little evidence that daily flossing has any impact on removing plaque. This too is significant, since dental experts often cite plaque reduction as a benefit of flossing.
The authors also added that the studies and the results were unreliable.
2015 Journal of Clinical Periodontology
This report stated that current studies do not show adequate proof that floss removes plaque or reduces gum inflammation (gingivitis).
2016 American Academy of Periodontology
In this statement, the Academy admitted that existing research does not measure the true markers of oral health.
They found that current studies did not use enough test subjects to form any conclusive results. The studies were also conducted for too short a period of time, since gum diseases like periodontitis take years to develop.
The statement also notes “an absence of quality research” on the subject of daily flossing.
To Floss or Not to Floss
So, what do all these studies show? Have we been lied to for all these years? Does flossing truly have no effect on our oral health?
Before you toss that roll of dental floss, consider another research study published in the Journal of Dental Research.
A group of school-age children had their teeth flossed by professionals Monday through Friday for just under two years. This reduced their risk of developing cavities by an impressive 40 percent.
Interestingly, the same study found that kids who flossed their own teeth did not experience the same level of cavity protection.
What does this mean? Is flossing irrelevant to our oral health? Or could it be that many of us simply don’t know the correct way to floss our teeth?
Most people insert the floss and saw it back and forth against their gums. According to the ADA, the proper way to floss is to slide the floss up and down each side of each tooth.
The video below demonstrates the correct way to floss your teeth.
The Bottom Line on Daily Flossing
What can we conclude from all this?
Just because there’s insufficient research doesn’t mean that flossing has no benefits. One study did suggest that regular flossing can reduce your risk of gingivitis, which is a huge motivation to continue the habit.
Why else should you stick with your routine of daily flossing?
If nothing else, flossing is an effective way to remove tiny food particles that your toothbrush misses. Flossing makes your mouth feel cleaner and leaves your breath smelling fresher.
So don’t take the Dietary Guidelines’ omission to mean that daily flossing is no longer important. There are still many sound reasons to include flossing as part of your oral care routine.