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To Floss or Not to Floss…?

by Mark A. Penshorn, DDS
Schertz, Texas

In response to the social media conversation regarding the effectiveness of flossing, I have several comments:

The effectiveness of flossing has “never been researched” because the visual evidence is so overwhelming for those of us who look at teeth every day, it was unnecessary to research, in my opinion. Why would you need a study to see if sweeping a floor with a broom actually moved dirt around and got the floor cleaner? You don’t need a study to see this. Everyone who has ever swept a dirty floor knows this works. And while some are better sweepers than others, and some brooms more effective on some floors than others, the statement that “sweeping the floor with a broom gets it cleaner” is a verifiable statement of the obvious.

Flossing has a visible effect on the surface of the tooth. Dentists and hygienists can see with our eyes if someone has used floss between their teeth or not. Floss used correctly removes the residual food debris from between the teeth down to the intersection of the gum where the toothbrush doesn’t reach. This takes away the opportunity for sugars to create spots of decay which turn into “cavities.” Many, many patients end up with decay between their teeth because they don’t floss.

Importantly, we can also see gum inflammation go away within days of flossing. If a patient will floss for 4-7 days, both the patient and the dentist will be able to see a noticeable difference in the condition of the gums after those few days. I have had numerous patients improve their dental health simply by beginning a regular flossing habit.

Realize that 40% of any tooth’s surface area is the area facing another tooth where the brush can’t reach. Not flossing is like only brushing half of your mouth. So you get to choose: a half-clean, smelly mouth or a completely clean one?

I will continue to floss and tell my patients to do the same.

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