Flossing is not bad for you. It may not be as effective as once thought, but it still helps to loosen food particles stuck between teeth, which prevents bacterial growth.
Most of us have been told to “floss regularly” since we’ve had a full set of teeth. It was once considered a standard practice in at-home dental hygiene, right alongside twice-daily tooth brushing. However, recent studies suggest that flossing may not be as good for you as we all once thought.
In 2016, the Associated Press (AP) released a bombshell report boldly titled, “Medical Benefits of Flossing Unproven.” As the headline suggests, the report went on to state that the federal government had removed its boilerplate flossing recommendation from its latest dietary guidelines this year. This was done without notice, and when the AP inquired about the matter, the government acknowledged in their response that the health benefits of flossing had never been thoroughly researched.
Flossing is supposed to prevent buildup of plaque, gum inflammation (gingivitis) and even full-fledged tooth decay. However, all of these conditions take years to develop. And the studies claiming that flossing helps prevent them only lasted a week or so.
The AP also accused many of the research studies as being biased. This year, the global market for dental hygiene is predicted to reach nearly $2 billion. That’s a lot of cash riding on the claims that flossing helps prevent plaque and/or gingivitis. And yet even large companies that designed and paid for their own studies were unable to produce definitive research. For example, Procter & Gamble made claims that their floss fights plaque and gingivitis—but this was based on a mere two-week study, which was largely discredited back in 2011.
The AP article created a great deal of backlash within the dental community. Just two days after the AP published their report, the federal government issued a news release making the case for flossing. They said that they removed it from their dietary guidelines because they wanted to focus on reduced sugar intakes instead but that flossing—or other methods of interdental cleaning—were still very important.
The logic is this: when plaque is allowed to build up on the gum line, tooth decay and gum disease may start to develop. Working together, regular professional cleaning, daily tooth brushing and “cleaning between teeth” have all been shown to help reduce plaque. With this statement, the federal government acknowledged for the first time that cleaning between teeth could be done in ways other than flossing.
So should you still be flossing? For optimum oral health, the American Dental Association recommends regular dentist visits along with brushing your teeth for two minutes twice-daily (using a fluoride toothpaste) and cleaning between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner—which can be floss or brushes. But don’t overdo it with either one: over-flossing in terms of pressure or frequency can lead to red, irritated or even bloody gums.
If you still have questions about whether or not flossing is right for you, talk with your dentist.
Possible short-term side effects
- gum irritation
- removes food in between teeth
- helps prevent plaque build-up