Whoa!  Not floss?   Surely, that’s dental sacrilege.  Yet, the Federal Gov’t recently dropped its recommendation for daily flossing on the basis that there was no substantial scientific evidence to support the claim that daily flossing preserved gum health.  This isn’t a joke.  In fact, the story behind the story is quite seamy; it turns out the government never had any evidence to support the flossing recommendation.  A group of enterprising Associated Press reporters broke this story in 2016 when they pressed the Department of Health and Human Services for any scientific evidence.   Shortly after their story, the US health department quietly removed daily flossing from its list of dental recommendations   Yikes.

The federal government has recommended flossing since 1979, first in a surgeon general’s report and later in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued every five years. The guidelines must be based on scientific evidence, under the law.  It turns out, there was no evidence.  In fact, a survey of  25 studies that compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss found that the evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.”

Even companies that sell floss (the global market is predicted to reach almost $2 billion in 2017, with half in the United States, according to MarketSizeInfo.com)  couldn’t present  evidence of their claims that floss reduces plaque or gingivitis. Procter & Gamble, which claims that its floss fights plaque and gingivitis, pointed to a two-week study, which was discounted as irrelevant in the 2011 research review.   Double yikes!

So, is flossing harmful?  Perhaps.  If you don’t do it right, it could actually damage your gums.  Flossing requires a high level of dexterity to manipulate the floss in the mouth – particularly towards the back of the mouth – and the vast majority of people simply don’t have that degree of dexterity. Rather than removing plaque, too many people are simply pushing the plaque that is between their teeth down underneath the gums and leaving it there — which is the last thing you want to do.

Flossing incorrectly (sawing floss between teeth) can actually damage the edges of the gums. So if you’re not flossing correctly, absolutely don’t floss at all.  (here’s info about how to floss correctly)

So what do you do now?   The answer lays with interdental brush cleaning.  Interdental brushes have small bristled heads specially designed to clean between your teeth. They are available in most supermarkets and pharmacies and come in different widths to suit the sizes of the gaps between your teeth. (You may need to use more than one size of brush)  Use a straight interdental brush between the front teeth. Insert the brush gently between your teeth. Do not force the brush into a space; work it in gently or choose a smaller size. Move the interdental brush full length back and forth a few times.  Done!  

The bottom line in dental health is that you need to brush twice a day with a fluorinated toothpaste, floss or use interdental cleaning once a day, and see your dentist on a regular basis.  But you can put away the floss…….it’s just not all that.