"Dr. Aldredge, they're saying on the news that we don't have to floss anymore."
Millions of people worldwide heard or read the headline this August that the medical benefits of dental floss are unproven. And because most people really don't enjoy flossing (50% would really rather scrub the toilet?) many were ready and willing to believe they could skip this vital oral care step.
So I went on NBC Nightly News and the Today Show to tell them they're wrong. Following that misguided advice - to not floss - could cost you your teeth.
Periodontists Know Better
Periodontists are the world's gum treatment specialists. We take three extra years of education to study what causes gum disease and how it can be prevented. And we've seen time and again, right in our offices, that neglecting to floss causes periodontal disease, the number one killer of teeth.
We brush our teeth because we understand that cleaning away dental plaque and debris at least twice a day protects tooth enamel and gums. Removing plaque eliminates the opportunity for bad bacteria to grow, thereby lowering the risk of cavities, gum inflammation and recession.
"Not flossing is like building a new house and only painting two sides. The unprotected sides will rot."
Now consider those tight spaces between our teeth. The same potentially damaging food and drink that touches other tooth surfaces touches there as well. But we're only cleaning the surfaces we can easily see and access. This is like building a brand new house, and only painting two sides of it. We wouldn't do that because ultimately the unprotected sides will become damaged and rot. Neglecting to clean the tooth surfaces between our teeth gives the same result: those hard-to-reach spaces will accumulate plaque and oral bacteria, and that will inevitably cause damage.
Toothbrushes Can't Reach All Oral Bacteria
It is easy to see why 90% of oral disease starts between the teeth, where your brush can't reach. And it's easy to see why we should use dental floss to get in there and get that bacteria out.
"Bad" bacteria such as Streptococci and Staphylococci flourish between the teeth, causing gum inflammation. Irritated or bleeding gums indicate gingivitis, the earliest stage of periodontal disease. Over time the disease progresses, leading to loss of gum tissue, loss of the bone that holds your teeth in place, and, if untreated, eventually the loss of the tooth altogether.
What About the Flossing Studies?
Periodontitis is an insidious disease. It takes years, even a decade to develop. In the meantime, its progress can go completely unnoticed. This is why we need longer studies to prove the benefit of cleaning with dental floss. It's also why you should be seeing us for a comprehensive periodontal exam. You may not see periodontal disease developing. but we're specially trained to find that for you and treat it.
Yes, many people read and heard that flossing was unproven. I can tell you from 20 years of experience, flossing is essential! If you want your house to stand strong forever, you protect every side. If you want to keep your teeth, you clean every side. You brush. You rinse. You floss.
In the next installment, I'll discuss how flossing could save your life, and the link to heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, and more.