Why should I Floss if it doesn’t prevent gum disease?
The recent news stories and headlines including the New York Times August 2, 2016 and CBS News proclaiming the failure of scientific evidence to prove flossing prevents periodontal disease or cavities has brought joy to many frustrated dental patients and questions to our office about why anyone should floss. Some even hint of a conspiracy between dentists and the floss companies. A disclaimer: We do not own stocks in floss producers or belong to any dental organizations/cartels.
Why studies may not prove floss prevents gum disease
The failure of scientific studies to prove floss prevents periodontal disease may be valid or because it is difficult to measure precisely the progression of the disease. Periodontal disease is like diabetes we have no cure, it is simply a matter of controlling the effects. Some people have very strong bacteria or weak immune systems and no amount cleaning can control it. Or it may also relate to periodontal disease occurring largely in the depths of pockets that can’t be reached by floss. Other reasons may be because flossing is a very difficult skill to master and once periodontal disease occurs the spaces between teeth become larger and the anatomy more complex with curves and invaginations that make efficient cleaning with flossing even more difficult. This results in an incomplete “cleaning” of the surfaces and bacteria left to cause problems. This why we often suggest other tools such as rubber tips, small brushes, simulators, tooth picks and even water piks to better clean these hard to reach areas. In fact almost every patient who has “pockets” is given samples to try.
Why clean between your teeth at all?
That being said flossing has been shown to prevent gingivitis (see above) which is often the first phase of gum destruction. And we do know that brushing can prevent cavities so why not at least try to clean in between the teeth. For those who are rejoicing in no longer needing to clean between their teeth I would suggest a simple test. Don’t floss or use anything to clean between your teeth for three days, then floss and smell it. If that is a smell( bad breath) you want to share with your loved ones and the rest of the world then by all means do nothing to keep these areas clean. If you hate floss get a water pick or use rubber tips.