Do You Really Need to Floss? Maybe Not!
A recent study suggests there’s little evidence to support flossing your teeth, but does that mean it’s completely pointless? Groom+Style investigates.
The Guardian, the BBC, CBC, LiveScience and the New York Times, all recently reported that flossing your teeth might not be as beneficial as most of us think. The report, which was conducted by the Associated Press, found that there was “weak evidence” to support flossing as an essential part of your daily cleaning routine.
The report prompted a backlash from dentists, who say that when done correctly, flossing is beneficial, and in fact essential for reaching areas of the teeth that brushes can’t. What the Associated Press study is saying, is that there’s little substantial evidence to support the idea that flossing is essential for the prevention of gum disease and cavities. For most of our lives, we’ve been told by dentists that if we don’t floss, we will end up with cavities and gum disease. That may well be true, but to the same token, it may not be.
The take-away from all of this? Flossing might not be as important as we think when it comes to cavities and gum disease prevention, providing that the rest of your routine is up to scratch.
What are the supposed benefits of flossing?
The British and American Dental Associations still recommend flossing as an essential part of daily oral hygiene. That’s unlikely to change for some time, if ever, for a couple of good reasons:
- Flossing is a low-cost, relatively low-risk practice, which can help to remove plaque in spaces between teeth too small for a brush to reach.
- The Associated Press is not a medical, scientific or governing body, and the long-standing recommendations of these dental societies is unlikely to change because of that.
So, why would you floss in the first place? Here’s what the dentists say:
- Regular flossing helps to prevent the formation of cavities
- Regular flossing helps to prevent gum disease
- Regular flossing helps to clear plaque from between teeth.
The thing is, all three of those points are true, flossing does help to prevent gum disease and cavities, and it does help to clear stubborn plaque. The problem, is that if done incorrectly, flossing can damage teeth and gums, and when there are other options for reducing the risk of gum disease, plaque buildup and cavities, the necessity for daily flossing becomes suspect.
If flossing helps, why stop?
Let’s be clear, nobody is saying that you should stop flossing outright, what the report suggests is that flossing might not be essential. The things which dentists say flossing prevents, can be prevented by other means, including:
- Brushing thoroughly
- Using a brush with interdental (between teeth) bristles
- Using a special interdental brush
- Using an electric toothbrush
- Using a water flosser
- Drinking fluoridated water
- Rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash
The reason this report and its supporters say that you might want to stop flossing, is that flossing can damage teeth and gums if done incorrectly.
What is the right way to floss teeth?
When flossing, most people go too close to the gums and work the floss too aggressively. That’s like cutting cheese with a cheese wire. The purpose of floss, is to help clean the tight spaces between teeth, to remove plaque and bacteria.
The American Dental Association suggests inserting the floss, then creating a ‘C’ shape as you curve it around the side of the tooth. Stay away from the gum as much as possible, and don’t pluck or pull the floss out harshly. How do you know if you’re flossing too hard? Sore or bleeding gums, any kind of pain or discomfort in the teeth, or loosening of the teeth, are all signs that you’re flossing too much or too hard.
What are the alternatives to flossing?
If this news has given you cause for celebration and you can’t wait to ditch the floss, just remember that you still need to take care of your gums and in between your teeth.
These brushes have little heads and tiny bristles, designed to clean between teeth without forcing them apart. They don’t go all the way through like floss does, and you’re less likely to cause bleeding gums using an interdental brush.
Drinking fluoridated water
Not particularly hard, since most tap water contains added fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral, often added to toothpastes to help prevent cavities. As long as you’re drinking plenty of tap water and brushing regularly, you should be getting adequate amounts of fluoride.
Staying away from sugar
Sugar does a good job of coating your teeth and helping to feed the bacteria which can lead to bad breath and tooth decay. Reducing your sugar intake, reducing the amount of time sugary foods spend in your mouth, and brushing or chewing sugar-free gum afterwards, are all great ideas.
Using an alcohol-free mouthwash
Ideally, your mouthwash should be alcohol-free. When you’re swirling something around in your mouth twice a day, it’s a good shout to not make that thing alcoholic.
Buying a quality toothbrush/electric toothbrush
Getting a quality brush is half the battle. Finding one which doesn’t hurt your gums, but which is firm enough and features the right amount of long and short bristles, is key. For advice on electric toothbrushes — which are often great at getting into little spots and shaking free bits of food — check out Groom+Style’s review of the Top 5 Electric Toothbrushes.
Using a water flosser
A water flosser is pretty much what it sounds like — it’s like a pressure washer for your teeth. Groom+Style reviewed five of them, so that you can pick the right one for you. Using a water flosser is a much safer way of getting in between teeth than either string or picks. Check out our picks of the Top 5 Water Flossers.
So, should you floss or not (and what about string vs. picks)?
If you can keep up a solid oral hygiene routine using the techniques described above, then flossing may not be essential for you. If you see benefits from flossing, and you’re able to do it without causing damage, then like we said, it’s low-cost and relatively low-risk, so go for it.
If you are going to carry on flossing and it comes down to string vs. floss pickers — little plastic wishbones with a piece of floss in the opening — it’s going to be personal preference. A floss picker might give you more control over the angle, but trying to get one in the back teeth could lead to frustration and possible gum injury if you get a bit over-zealous. String floss is entirely flexible, but remember that with string, you’re more likely to overdo it by pulling too hard over the teeth and gums.
In essence, remember that flossing isn’t bad, but it’s maybe not essential if your routine is good; and most importantly if you are flossing and it hurts stop or see your dentist for some professional advice.