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Should you floss or not?

For decades dentists have recommended flossing as an essential part of oral hygiene. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends flossing at least once a day to help remove plaque from the areas between your teeth where your toothbrush can't reach and insists on its website that, "Flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums."

But how useful is flossing really?  An investigation by the Associated Press (AP), has shown there's insufficient proof to back up this claim and now the federal government says that there's no scientific evidence that flossing works.

For such an "unproven" practice, flossing certainly has a long history.  Researchers have discovered dental floss and toothpick grooves in the ancient teeth of prehistoric humans. It makes sense - people have been getting food stuck in their teeth since the beginning of human history.  It wasn't until the early 1800s, though, that flossing began to be recommended by pioneering dentist Levi Spear Parmly.   He suggested that people floss with waxed silk thread "to dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove, and which is the real source of disease."  But dental floss didn't become popular right away. Professional dentistry was still a developing field, and silk thread was expensive. It wasn't until after World War II, when nylon floss was substituted for silk floss, that it became a much more common dental practice.

The ADA has been promoting flossing  since 1908, and the federal government has been recommending flossing since 1979, first in a surgeon general's report and later in the evidence-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued every five years.  Under law, the guidelines must be based on scientific evidence.  When the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed.  The government acknowledged that the evidence for the effectiveness of flossing was weak and unreliable.

Does this mean you should stop flossing?  The ADA, and Raleigh dentist Dr. Jeff M. Morrison DDS say "keep flossing".  Despite the lack of scientific evidence for flossing, in a statement released Tuesday, the ADA  vigorously defended flossing, saying it was an "essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums".

Dr. Morrison acknowledged  that  "while better research is needed on the benefits of flossing. it's low risk and low cost.  Based on the thousands of patients I've seen in my dental practice, I'm confident that flossing can help remove plaque and food build-up between the teeth, which in turn reduces the risk of gingivitis, gum disease, and tooth decay."  Furthermore, Dr. Morrison points out, "flossing may be much more important for specific groups of people - those who smoke, have periodontal disease, or diabetes."

If you have questions about flossing, talk with Dr. Morrison or your Dental Hygienist at your next cleaning and exam.   For more information or to schedule an appointment go to or call 919.755.3450.