To Floss or Not to Floss?

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When it comes to our health, there’s always more than one opinion about what’s right. It sounds ironic, but sometimes science isn’t always a science, and there seems to be a lot of wiggle room and opportunity for debate regarding best practices. Alcohol, for example, is said to be bad for us, although red wine is believed to have many health benefits. A similar dilemma, and perhaps more interesting to dentists, is that flossing is said both to spread bacteria around the mouth, and remove it. Which is it? Should we be flossing or not?

Two Sides to the Coin

If you were to ask two different dentists whether or not you should be flossing, you’d probably get two different answers. There’s a lot of confusion – even among the experts – when it comes to flossing, and that’s because there are studies that demonstrate evidence both for and against the technique.

Let’s see what these studies say…

* For Flossing

There are two significant arguments for flossing. The first, of course, is cosmetic, as regular flossing helps to remove trapped foods, especially in people with mild diastema. The second argument is that flossing has been shown to be effective at reducing the frequency of bleeding between the teeth. In fact, in this capacity, flossing could actually be twice as effective as a standard toothbrush. Flossing alongside toothbrushing has also been shown to reduce the risk of gingivitis (a form of periodontal disease).

* Against Flossing

There are some dentists who advise against flossing because of the risk of spreading bacteria around the mouth and increasing the risk of infection. While this can happen, we need to remember that bacteria can be spread around the mouth even without the use of floss, simply during our day-to-day activities. Some also say that flossing is ineffective. As we can see from the research above, it’s not, but it may not be the most effective solution. Antimicrobial mouthwashes, for example, are usually much better.

Time to Toss the Floss?

Whether or not a person wishes to floss should be their own personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer here. Flossing isn’t dangerous or painful when done correctly, and although flossing alone isn’t enough to maintain excellent oral health, it can be effective when used alongside other techniques, such as brushing and rinsing. If a person wishes to floss, dentists should advise that they…

  • brush and then floss, rather than the other way around. This is more effective overall.
  • use around 45 cm of floss, with approximately 2.5 to 5 cm of floss inserted between teeth.
  • gently curve the floss so that it is adjacent to the tooth, and tension can be felt.
  • see a dentist if flossing causes bleeding. This could be a sign of gingivitis or other disease.
  • use floss holders if flossing is difficult, to make the process much more simple.
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