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Don’t Listen to the News: Keep Flossing

Recent articles in tabloid news claim to have dropped a bomb: flossing provides no benefits, according to science. Their claim is based on the results of a number of studies that cast doubts on the benefits of flossing, but like a lot of scientific journalism, the goal is to get readers, not to truly inform. Flossing remains an essential part of dental hygiene.

The Goal of the Article

You can see the motivation behind this particular piece in the article itself. It notes that many people don’t like to floss so they don’t do it and therefore they feel guilty (in fact, many people lie about flossing). But the article promises to remove people’s associated guilt by showing that flossing isn’t really effective, anyway.

Pretty woman flossing in front of the mirror

It’s a pretty easy way to get clicks and readership for your article: show that nobody has to do something they don’t want to do, anyway.

But What about the Science?

To make its point, the article overstates the lack of evidence supporting flossing. It conveniently ignores the 2013 Cochrane Review which notes that flossing reduces plaque levels compared to brushing alone, and that it notes that brushing and flossing significantly reduces gum inflammation over just brushing.

The Cochrane Review does note that there’s no good evidence to support a reduction of cavities between teeth, but it says that’s because none of the studies were long enough to observe the development of tooth decay between teeth, where it’s hard to spot.

But what about all the other studies that show little or no benefit? There are many possible reasons why this could be the case. First, we know that people’s gum disease risk is related not just to oral hygiene, but also to genetics. Most, possibly all, flossing studies don’t take this into account. There’s no genetic screening of people before they are entered into the study, so this could potentially balance out the gains from flossing.

Second, it could be because of the reason we noted above: people lie about flossing. Studies show about 27% of people lie to their dentists about flossing. In studies, scientists aren’t actually following people back to their homes at night to see if they’re really flossing. If people are lying about flossing in these studies, then of course the study won’t show differences between people who say they floss but really don’t and people who just admit they don’t floss.

But in our experience, the benefit is clear: flossing helps protect your teeth and gums. It reduces your need for reconstructive dentistry, including fillings, dental crowns, and even dental implants.

If you’d like to ask us more questions about keeping your teeth healthy, please call (914) 332-4402 for an appointment with a Tarrytown dentist at Advanced Dentistry of Tarrytown.

 

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