Learning to brush your teeth as a young child always came with the admonition to also floss if you wanted to avoid cavities and gum disease. However, there has been some mixed interpretation of overall weak scientific data about the benefits of flossing. If a claim is made of a health benefit for doing something, then it does need to be supported by the evidence. However, the evidence also needs to be gathered from examples of people doing the healthy activity the right way.

What Prompted the Flossing Debate?

The Federal Government decided to not include the mention of flossing when it released the new dietary guidelines. The idea to drop the mention of flossing was said to have been to focus more on nutrition. However, the Associated Press ran an article about flossing being dropped from the guidelines, and it sort of took off from there. The US Health and Human Services Department has indicated that flossing is still recommended by the Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control. An official statement from the Health and Human Services Department states, "Flossing is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. Professional cleaning, tooth brushing, and cleaning between teeth (flossing and the use of other tools such as interdental brushes) have been shown to disrupt and remove plaque."

Is the Data About Flossing's Effectiveness Really Weak?

There is not a lot of highly detailed and controlled studies available. This is what makes the actual evidence appear to be weak, and it is partially behind why the recommendation was removed from the Dietary Guidelines. Studies that gather oral health data based on those who say they floss and those who do not are not controlled scientific medical studies. The biggest overlooked piece of the puzzle by the public is to consider whether those who floss are actually doing it the right way and without fail on a daily basis. A New York Times article reported that, "A review of six trials found that when professionals flossed the teeth of children on school days for almost two years, they saw a 40 percent reduction in the risk of cavities." A 40 percent reduction in cavities compared to flossing or not flossing is significant, but the professionals made sure it was done correctly.

Dentists Still Floss

If you ever need cosmetic dentistry, perhaps from a dentist like those at Family 1st Dental, it should be for genetic issues that cause gaps and misalignment or accidents that cause chips or broken teeth. It should not be due to neglecting a daily oral hygiene regimen that can help prevent cavities and tooth loss to periodontal disease. Dr. Tim Iafolla of the National Institutes of Health says, "Every dentist in the country can look in someone’s mouth and tell whether or not they floss."

Better Safe Than Sorry

Before long-term studies were done on smoking, people could tell that smokers had developing health problems. One of the first studies to demonstrate it was published in 1929. It was not until 1954 that another study was done, and it was not until 1964 that the US Surgeon General weighed in on the subject. There is a difference between scientific and anecdotal evidence. Have you ever seen a report about a health study and thought how you always knew the results obtained to be true? Well, you were going off of anecdotal evidence rather than the data gathered from a medical study. Compelling anecdotal evidence along with even weak scientific evidence favors that flossing is something you can safely do to help prevent gingivitis or periodontal disease.

If you have never flossed, you can do your own private study. Learn how to floss the correct way, and keep it up every day until your next dental exam. Then, ask your dentist how your oral hygiene is working out. At the least, you will have less tartar scraping during your dental cleaning. It is your mouth, and even if there was strongly compelling evidence for the benefits of flossing, it would still be up to you to do it every day.

Author's Bio: 

Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake.