So of course we’ve been getting lots of feedback and questions from this recent Associated Press article. It was published a couple of weeks ago, and if you didn’t hear about it and haven’t read it or don’t feel like reading it the gist is this: The Federal Government publishes dietary guidelines every 5 years and since 1979 the surgeon general has included flossing as a part of those guidelines. Not so any more. A year ago the AP asked the Feds for proof that flossing was effective.
Twenty-five studies were cited and the Feds came to the conclusion that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to keep including the recommendation to floss your teeth daily so they dropped it… and the collective gasp from the world of Dentistry actually altered the axial rotation of the earth so that our days are now a quarter of a second longer (not really, though leading researchers have postponed their flossing studies to delve into these claims as we speak).
And I get it – when you look at the data the AP brought forth there hasn’t been much in the way of hard and fast research on the subject directly. Is that enough to remove the recommendation? Of course I’m going to say no even though I have mentioned in the past that floss isn’t perfect (see my water pik post).
So here’s why: Bacteria. There are a host of factors that lead to tooth decay and gum disease, but it typically starts with bacteria. We all have bacteria in our mouths, I don’t care how much Listerine you swish with, it’s still there, it will always be there, and preventing tooth decay and gum disease begins by creating as hostile an environment for these bacteria as we can. This article published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology states that there are over 700 species of bacteria that have been detected in the human oral cavity. That’s a lot of bugs! Now not all of those 700 cause problems with our teeth and gums, but some of them can, especially if too many of them gather in the wrong place.
So keeping our mouths healthy is a constant battle against these tiny little things we can’t see, and the severity of those problems are dependent on our genetic make-up: how our bodies respond to those bacterial insults, how well our salivary components keep them in check, and the developmental composition of our teeth – things we have little to no control over. So to win the war, we need to take as much advantage of what we can influence and flossing (and visiting your Dentist for your recommended recare appointments!) is definitely a part of that.
But there’s no magic bullet. If there was, dental conferences would be overflowing with people with perfect teeth, and I assure you that’s not the case! So flossing is relatively easy, it’s cheap, and it does no harm, except maybe to our psyche when we don’t do it. If the good isn’t as well documented in scientific and clinical journals as maybe it should be, in my opinion that’s not enough evidence to write it off unless you’re really looking for an excuse not to.
And yes, people who floss can still get cavities and gum disease. And yes, there are many who have never touched the stuff who have never had a cavity or an inkling of gingivitis. But for most of us, including flossing in our regiment to ward off these nasty little bugs that are trying to tear us apart still makes sense. If you really really hate flossing that much, see my blog post on the water pik – It will completely rock your world (disclaimer: I offer no guarantee that your world will actually be rocked)- but do something – there are many options to clean between your teeth nowadays– just stay away from the power flosser – that thing is like a weed whacker for your gums – I don’t think I’ve ever bled so much from my mouth and I fell on my face a lot when I was a kid…
To your happy and healthy smile – Dr. Schwab