The effectiveness of dental flossing has been called into question following a report by the Associated Press (AP) global news agency. In August 2016, Associated Press circulated a story that claimed evidence in support of flossing was “weak and unreliable.” The news agency based this conclusion on a new statement by the federal government that recommendations for flossing were not substantiated by research.

However, shaky evidence in favour of flossing is not proof that it’s ineffective, and it may well be that the research was limited or flawed. The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) insists that the fragility of evidence backing the value of flossing reflects the “difficulty of conducting the necessary studies” – not the effectiveness of flossing itself. The CDA maintains that flossing, along with a healthy diet and regular dental check-ups, is important for oral healthcare.

Main Benefits of Flossing

Flossing plays a major role in helping to prevent problems such as cavities, gum disease and bad breath (halitosis) that are caused by a build-up of harmful bacteria and plaque, resulting from food particles becoming trapped between teeth, where toothbrushes cannot reach.

When plaque hardens into tartar (aka calculus), it can latch onto the enamel of teeth and penetrate beneath the gum line, causing periodontitis (gum disease). This infection can result in loss of teeth and receding gums, and can also spread to vital organs of the body such as the heart and lungs.

Flossing Properly and Safely

One reason why research into the value of flossing may be misleading is simply that some people don’t do it properly. Running a thin cord between your teeth may sound a simple procedure but there’s more to the process than that – there’s a right way and a wrong way to floss.

Dental experts say people often use too little floss and go at it too hard, which can do more harm than good. Another problem is failing to get a good grip on the floss and not angling it correctly.

Studies in the U.S. in 2017 also revealed that some people use ineffective and potentially dangerous items as a substitute for proper flossing. These makeshift “flossers” included strands of hair, folded paper, cutlery and safety pins.

What Dentists in the U.S. and U.K. are Saying

We’ve already seen that the Canadian Dental Association still strongly recommends flossing to keep gum disease at bay, but what about dentists and oral hygienists in other parts of the world?

The American Dental Association (ADA) insists that flossing remains a crucial part of oral hygiene and says the process can eliminate up to 80 per cent of plaque. The ADA advises cleaning between the teeth daily with an interdental cleaner like floss.

Dental experts in the U.K. also advised people to continue flossing in the wake of the 2016 controversy.  The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) said regular interdental cleaning with floss was still a vital part of oral healthcare. The organisation said that although flossing had not been proven to be effective, a major problem of research so far was that it jumped to conclusions that could not be applied to all patients.

Carry on Flossing!

So, is flossing still recommended? Definitely! The consensus among dental experts in Canada, and other countries, is that flossing remains essential in helping to maintain healthy gums and teeth.

Kitchener & Waterloo Emergency Dental Services, which provides both emergency and non-emergency treatment, says a regular routine of oral hygiene – including flossing – is essential to prevent gum disease and tooth decay.