Can We Finally Quit Flossing?

According to the American Association of Endodontists, more than 80 percent of American adults report fear of the dentist, which may keep them from pursuing expert advice and regular check ups. One of the worst parts of going to the dentist is certainly being reminded that you don’t floss nearly as much as you should. According to the American Dental Association, flossing “is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.” New science may say otherwise, however.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently removed flossing as a recommended daily practice, after questions were raised as to its utility. Some flossing studies found that daily cleanings reduce levels of gingivitis and plaque, but these benefits were often small and almost insignificant. Furthermore, many of these studies, when reviewed, were found to have unreliable data and a poor experiment design. The major contributing factor towards oral health is brushing one’s teeth with fluoridated toothpaste, rather than attacking the gums with dental floss.

One possible reason that flossing gives relatively poor results is that we are all doing it wrong. Dentists suggest curving the floss around every tooth individually in a ‘C’ shape to properly clean them. In a study, researchers found that children who had their teeth professionally flossed by dental hygienists five days a week had a 40 percent decrease in cavity risk, but those who flossed for themselves saw no effect.

Flossing is still a tool that, when done properly, can improve overall oral health. That doesn’t mean that your dentist isn’t making it out to be much more important than it actually is. In fact, some studies show that antimicrobial mouthwash is a more effective way to reduce plaque, an easy substitute for many people’s least favorite daily activity.

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