Welcome back to school and the fall grind at work. Summer was warm, but felt too short, as always. There was one hot topic this summer that was discussed almost every hour in my office by every patient who came in. It wasn’t the Trump-Clinton race. It wasn’t the Rio Olympics. And even though I love tennis, it wasn’t Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or the defeat of the top seeds in the tennis world. The hot topic was (drum roll...) flossing!!
For those of you following current events, newspaper headlines and the 11 o’clock news, you understand. For all others who may have been vacationing and not keeping up, it all happened on August 2. Breaking news. New York Times article “Feeling guilty about Flossing? Maybe there is NO Need!” US News writes, “Flossing doesn’t actually work, report says.” What’s going on?
That next morning some patients come in with a grin feeling more comfortable about the fact that they fall in that over 90% group who don’t pick up that string. However, my cell phone was buzzing non stop with alerts from the ADA and other Dental organizations as if there was a hurricane emergency alert! Where did this come from?
For my avid readers, you may remember a few months ago my article about flossing. We can recall that it was acknowledged that flossing is a least favorite activity for most, next to cleaning one’s bathroom. However, this is a century old tradition that has been passed through the generations and recommended by all dentists. “Don’t forget to brush and floss!” is our refrain. Flossing has been included in the National Dietary Guidelines for Americans for years. So, are these breaking news articles a way out for the public to say they can skip that extra chore at the sink? What changed?
Last year, before the release of the latest guidelines, the Associated Press requested scientific evidence on flossing from the Department of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. The government’s response was that they admitted that “proper” research was never done. As a result, without notice, the flossing recommendation was omitted from the latest Dietary Guidelines. The AP analyzed 25 studies on toothbrushing and flossing, and called the overall results, “weak evidence” in favor of flossing. That’s it! Based on that we are throwing away a recommendation that’s been in place since 1908?
So, where do we go with this? What should we do? Since this is Ask the Dentist, I’ll give you my opinion and recommendations based on my knowledge, research, and 20 years of clinical experience.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology have both cited and performed research suggesting that flossing can stop plaque buildup, gingivitis and tooth decay. So, let’s stop and analyze that. Plaque buildup. I guarantee that anyone who flosses will attest to the fact that when they have completing flossing, they will find something has loosened up between their teeth, and that string will not look or smell (sorry) as clean as when they started. Your brush just can’t get in between your teeth, and under the collars of your gums. So, disturbing that plaque and bacteria, and then rinsing it away (I like Listerine as it straight up kills it all) will make your mouth cleaner, and the likelihood of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) forming will be reduced. As far as tooth decay, loosening your last meal from being stuck in between your molars is going to limit the breakdown of your enamel.
Most dental experts will agree it’s NOT time to “toss the floss”. A dentist with the National Institute of Health still recommends flossing because “there is potential reward.” I will tell you that I see patients well into their 90s, and the ones who have been flossing for years have tough healthy gums and they don’t bleed. That’s the best research I can stand by.
So, even though many came in to the office on August 3 hoping to hear that maybe their flossing days were over, I still recommend brushing, flossing and rinsing as the best way to a healthy, beautiful smile. We’ll see you at your next check up.
Dr. Brian Kalb practices Dentistry in New Rochelle and Long Island. He can be reached at 914-262-1399 or www.drbriankalb.com.