It’s a dental hygiene method that’s been as synonymous with dental appointments as free toothpaste, but recent reports have cast extreme doubt on the practice of flossing that’s sent patients searching for an alternative supplement to brushing.
Headlines earlier this month, spurred by a Freedom of Information Act filing by the Associated Press, permeated nearly every avenue of communication available to us today. From Facebook to the front page of the New York Times, the death of flossing appears to be here, but the question of flossing’s recognized efficacy was first suggested when the federal government released their dietary recommendations earlier this year without flossing being included. These lead reporters to investigate further, and the answer they received from the government was surprising: the effectiveness of flossing was never researched – a requirement for inclusion on federal guidelines.
While that doesn’t mean that flossing is ineffective, necessarily. It simply means there’s no suitable standard by which its effectiveness has been measured.
Looking at the most verifiable research conducted on the subject in the last 10 years, the AP found 25 studies that compared the use of a toothbrush with that of brushing and flossing. The findings of these studies was “weak, very unreliable…of very low quality…[carrying] a moderate to large potential for bias.”
Moreover, a review of these studies stated “The majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal.” Another cited “inconsistent/weak evidence” and a general “lack of efficacy.”
While it’s true that other studies have shown some positive aspects of flossing, including a 2011 study that credits flossing with reducing gum inflammation in a segment of patients, the results were questioned in a later review, calling the evidence “very unreliable.”
The United States’ dropping of regular flossing from its dietary recommendations prompted the National Health Service (NHS) to reconsider its own recommendations for UK citizens during a session in January.
This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t continue to care for the spaces between their teeth – in fact, it should reinforce the importance of caring for those hard-to-reach areas between your teeth. Instead, flossing should be used only in cases where the spaces between teeth are too tight for inter-dental brushes to fit without causing pain or discomfort.
Healthy Alternatives to Flossing
Even before these findings were released to the public, less than half of the population of the United States admitted to flossing on a daily basis – and that number may be even lower. Now that much of the dental and oral care industry seem to be moving away from flossing as a regular recommendation for daily care, many people may begin looking for alternatives. If this describes you, consider these healthy alternatives to flossing to keep your teeth healthy and strong.
For larger spaces between teeth, you can use a smaller brush to physically disturb bacteria that might be lingering after a regular brushing session. Some people prefer brushes with longer handles so they can more easily reach more areas within the mouth and can be used with or without toothpaste. Because these brushes tend to be fairly flimsy due to the metal wire attached to the bristles, but they tend to be reasonably affordable.
Soft Picks/Water Irrigation/Water Picks
Soft picks are designed to be affordable, one-time use interproximal brushes intended for travel or periodic utilization, whereas water irrigation and water picks are meant to help prevent and control periodontal disease. Long recommended for those with braces, water picks can quickly and easily dislodge food particles, help reduce plaque, and irrigate around a patient’s gum line. Some water-based cleaning solutions allow for supplemental cleaning with antimicrobial solutions to help aid irrigation.
Studies have shown mixed results on the benefits of water-based flossing solutions, though the softer approach can reduce trauma to the gums and help offset the bleeding associated with rigorous flossing. Water flossing and picks should be cleaned on a weekly basis to avoid accumulation of bacteria.
While these are a relatively new technology, studies have displayed promising initial results for air flossing methods and products. Air flossers are powered cleaning devices, using compressed air to push water or mouthwash between your teeth to help encourage removal of plaque and food particles.
Of course, it’s always wise to consult your dentist or dental hygienist to see what they currently recommend and to get a better idea of what to use to keep your mouth clean and healthy going forward – even if you decide you want to continue to floss. If you’re looking for your next trusted dentist in Seattle, consider making an appointment at Avila Dental, North Seattle’s favorite dental practice today!