Keep flossing, your teeth will thank you - Albuquerque Journal

Keep flossing, your teeth will thank you

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

(Illustration By Cathryn Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)
(Illustration By Cathryn Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Nearly 15 percent of adults would rather clean a toilet than floss their teeth.

That’s according to a survey by the American Academy of Peridontology. For the dentally challenged who are looking for another reason to avoid fussing with flossing, here’s more ammunition:

No reliable scientific studies conclusively show that using an “interdental cleaner,” or flossing, provides any oral health benefit.

Whoa! Not so fast, local and national dentists and professional dental organizations caution. Despite the lack of formal scientific studies, there is ample “common sense” evidence that flossing does no harm and, in fact, does provide benefits, they say.

Flossing used to be recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published every five years. That recommendation was dropped from the guidelines earlier this year after a persistent Associated Press reporter filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act to see the research on which the recommendation was based – or rather the lack of research, as he discovered.

Among the studies that were done, some compared the use of a toothbrush alone to the combined use of a toothbrush and floss but found little benefit with added flossing, according to HHS and USDA. Other studies did not track enough people over a long enough period of time to make the results useful, they said.

Jesús Galván, a dentist for 40 years and the chief dental officer for Delta Dental in New Mexico, the largest dental benefits carrier in the state, said the organization and the 965 dentists with whom it works are telling their 312,450 covered members to continue daily flossing.

“People daily build up a bio-film on their teeth called plaque, which is a layer of organic matter that contains some 500 bacterial species, food debris and other substances,” Galván said. “In order to prevent the adverse effects of plaque, you disrupt it or break it apart by flossing so the bacteria in the plaque does not have an opportunity to cause tooth decay or periodontal disease.”

Likewise, the New Mexico Dental Association is recommending that its 600 member dentists continue telling their patients to floss, as does the American Dental Association.

“Our position is that it has worked and it continues to work,” said NM Dental Association executive director Tom Schripsema, an Albuquerque dentist.

“We’d like to have the research, but I don’t think it’s been high on people’s priorities, because it was common sense,” and scientific studies can be very expensive, he said. However, “a lack of research doesn’t show that something is not working.”

Even prehistoric people used common sense and flossed – or so researchers believe. Grooves from floss and toothpicks have been found in the mouths of prehistoric humans, and it has been suggested that horse hair was used as floss and twigs as toothpicks, according to the dental education website Spear.

In 1815, a dentist from New Orleans, Levi Spear Parmly, began recommending that his patients run a waxed silk thread between their teeth to dislodge matter that could not be removed with a toothbrush. The Johnson & Johnson Corp. received the first patent for dental floss in 1898.

Rio Rancho dentist Kirk Wondra has no intention of abandoning the time-tested practice of flossing.

“I guarantee I do more dental work on people who do not take care of their teeth than on people who do take care of them, and flossing is part of that care,” he said.

As for the lack of research into flossing, Wondra offers this little experiment: Floss your teeth every day for a week and smell the floss when finished; then wait a week before flossing, and again smell the floss.

“Big difference,” he said. “The more powerful odor after not flossing for a while is from the accumulation of bacteria, which contributes to tooth decay and gum disease.”

And you don’t need expensive scientific research to tell you what your sense of smell – and common sense – already have.

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