Recently the value of flossing has been thrown into question by an Associated Press report that stated there are no proven benefits to flossing. I’ve had a number of patients and friends ask me my thoughts on this subject.
Although it may be true that there are not many scientific studies that “prove” flossing is beneficial, one could turn the argument completely around to argue that there are no studies that conclusively prove flossing is not beneficial. The issue at hand, simply put, is that there have not been any properly designed studies to confirm one way or another whether flossing is beneficial.
In light of the lack of evidence either way, I think we need to rely on good old fashioned common sense. Both cavities(decay) and gum disease are caused by bacteria, that whitish film or plaque that builds up on your teeth if you don’t clean them properly. Plaque that sits around the gum line will harden into the crusty yellow material called tartar. If the tartar sits around long enough, it can work its way under the gum line, potentially leading to gum disease. Also, if the plaque sits on the teeth long enough, it can also lead to tooth decay.
By brushing your teeth, you remove the plaque built up on the top, front, and back of the teeth. However, no matter how well you brush, the bristles cannot reach in between the teeth, which is where cavities most often start and where tartar likes to hide. The only way to clean between the contact point (where the teeth touch up against each other) is to mechanically remove the plaque using floss. There’s simply no other way. To clean under the contact points, floss can be effective if it’s done properly. In the scientific studies, it’s possible subjects were not flossing properly, thus flossing did not seem to be effective. The floss needs to be eased through the contact point and then gently contoured to both sides of the tooth, removing the plaque sitting on both sides. If the floss is just sawed through, it will likely cut the gum, but not remove much plaque. For some people with recession, additional aids are required, as floss alone may not be able to remove all the plaque. Aids such as Proxa Brushes or Soft Picks can be very useful. Please see your dentist to learn more about proper brushing and flossing techniques. This will definitely help to reduce cavities and gum disease. We see this every day at Tapestry Dental: those patients who brush and floss regularly have lower levels of tooth decay and gum disease than those patients who do not take proper care of their teeth.
– by Dr. Howard Kwan