Katera Hopkins, DMD, responds to recent reports that question the effectiveness of flossing.
“He doesn’t even floss daily!” I chided my older brother, trying to garner the disgust of my other family members (Yes, we were adults at the time. No, it wasn’t all that very long ago. Somehow, with siblings, things never change). My stepmother immediately defended him, “well, neither do I!”
I was an optimistic and ideological first-year dental student at the time. However, I have been a nearly lifelong flosser. I can’t remember exactly when I started flossing, but it must have been soon after I had my full permanent dentition, around age 12. And yes, I did have some idea that I wanted to go into dentistry when I began flossing. But, my own knowledge and opinions about flossing originally came from my personal experience.
I would guess that in the 20-some years since that time, there may be a total of 10 nights that I have missed flossing. I just like how much cleaner my mouth feels after I’ve flossed. My dental training has only reinforced my commitment to it, and to reinforcing its importance with my patients.
You know how you hear that your dentist knows if you’re embellishing the truth about flossing? It’s true. Biofilm (plaque) accumulates, gums become inflamed and bleed, the oral health suffers. Any clinical dentist or hygienist is immediately able to detect a mouth that has been routinely flossed versus one that has not. And that plaque and those bleeding gums? They affect the teeth and the gums, but also the overall health of the individual being examined. Plus, it just feels good to have freshly flossed teeth.
Research is limited, but that does not belie the significant impact flossing has on one’s oral and overall health. Do you clip your fingernails? Do you need research to tell you it’s a good idea? To perform a thorough longitudinal study on the benefits of flossing would be expensive, impractical, and challenging to control.
But the thing is, we do know that patients who participate actively in their oral homecare tend to have better periodontal health, and we also know that biofilm begins to accumulate on the surfaces of the teeth within 12 hours. The way to address it? Mechanical removal.
You can see that I am passionate about plaque removal and healthy gums. I am on a mission to get my family, my friends, my patients—you, my readers—to floss. I want you to feel its benefits. I am reassured by my patients as I’ve discussed the recent news questioning its value. They haven’t gotten caught up in the media hype. Even those who don’t routinely floss have been surprised by the news and disagree with it. They understand the benefits of flossing and know that it makes sense, feels good, and plays a role in a healthy oral hygiene routine.
Here are some other helpful articles to read to learn more about the benefits of flossing:
Katera F. Hopkins, DMD, is clinical dentist and residency faculty at the UVM Medical Center Dental and Oral Health Care.