It’s hard to believe that in 2016 we get a media blast AGAINST flossing your teeth. That’s what happened this week, but that message did not come from the AAP (American Association of Periodontics), a scientific organization, but rather from the AP (Associated Press), a newsgathering organization. They seem to refute 25 studies that have shown flossing to be helpful in preventing oral disease.
In today’s world we look to the evidence—the research—to determine whether our current beliefs hold true. Some of the research is old, some studies have too few participants or not enough control to be considered valid, and some really do outpace our old belief systems. So, I wrote to the AP, inquiring about the studies they refuted, and at no surprise to me, I received no response.
Here’s what we know, based on current and valid research. Gum disease is complicated. Our “host immune response” to the bug-layer that accumulates around the cuff of each tooth is different for each individual. It’s true that a small percentage of adults who have low thresholds of dangerous bacteria and no other immune problems can do pretty well in avoiding inflammation, even without the best home care. But also true: More than 80% of adults have gum disease and most of those who remain healthy prevent inflammation by brushing and flossing. Ask any daily flosser if they’d ever stop flossing and they’re grossed out at the idea.
One good thing that came from the AP article is it opens the discussion and highlights the complicated nature of gum disease and inflammation. Host immune response depends largely on environmental factors—not just flossing or even getting your teeth professionally cleaned. Smoking, diabetes, and other immune suppressing conditions, such as stress, cancer, obesity and genetics all play a part.
It’s also possible to have your saliva tested to determine whether you have high counts of the more dangerous strains of bacteria in your plaque and get treated for it. There’s another swish-and-spit test to determine your genetic susceptibility to gum disease. But none of these high-tech tests will give you permission to stop cleaning your teeth, if you seek health and stability.
The bottom line: Keep flossing! Floss deeply—curving the floss in a c-shape around the tooth and hug it as you move it up and down as far as you can. Keep in mind that flossing does just what the toothbrush does, but it reaches the surfaces the toothbrush bristles can’t. The tooth brush cleans the cheek-side and tongue-side of each tooth and floss gets the other two sides. How often should you floss? At least once a day in order to disrupt the plaque layer before the bug layer gets to be a more dangerous mix.
Meanwhile, if your gums bleed when you brush or floss, you have inflammation. Ask your dentist to help you with a plan to get healthy again and avoid the risks of tooth loss, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, pregnancy complications and erectile dysfunction.
For now, and until scientific evidence shows otherwise, flossing is imperative to maintaining good oral and systemic health.
Dr. Susan Maples has been named a top eight innovator in U.S. dentistry. She is author of Blabber Mouth: 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You to Live a Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life. wdrsusanmaples.com and blabbermouthbooks.com
Photo, Llywelyn Nys