To floss or not to foss?

Statement by Bill Kohn, DDS, vice president of dental science and policy at Delta Dental Plans Association

OAK BROOK, Illinois - August 5, 2016 - Should we floss? A simple question with an age old and commonly accepted answer: Yes. That answer now finds itself in the midst of some controversy.

The latest updates to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans publication by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services excludes the recommendation to floss, coupled with the Associated Press' review of several existing studies and national news coverage on the issue have thrown the benefit of flossing into question.

While it's true, the published evidence to support the effectiveness of flossing to prevent gum disease or tooth decay is weak at best, it's not exactly a "dirty little secret" of the industry. The fact is, this is generally well known in the dental research community. But, there's an old saying in evidence-based research "lack of evidence doesn't necessarily mean lack of effectiveness."

Some health practices that we take for granted, like flossing, are difficult to study and often don't get research dollars because it is a common practice, inexpensive and fairly easy to do, causes no harm, and it makes good biological sense.

We do know that flossing is an easy way to remove plaque, a major cause of both tooth decay and gum disease, if done well and regularly. Even in the absence of solid evidence to support flossing, if you follow this simple practice each day, along with basic good habits like daily brushing, using a fluoride toothpaste, eating a healthy diet and not smoking, and of course, getting regular dental check-ups, you are making great strides towards a lifetime of good oral health. This advice is particularly important if you already have some history of gum disease or tooth decay.

The bottom line is that having last night's dinner in between your teeth is neither good for your oral health nor appealing to those with whom you interact. Our simple advice: keep on flossing, America.

Bill Kohn, DDS, is currently the vice president of dental science and policy at Delta Dental Plans Association, which helps provide dental benefits to over 73 million Americans. Dr. Kohn is the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Oral Health.