On August 2nd, this New York Times article was published and caused quite a bit of controversy in both the dental community and with the general public. While it is not conclusive in its findings, the overarching claim is that flossing may not be as beneficial as once thought. As dental professionals, we take very seriously the responsibility we have ensuring our patients receive the best possible education and care regarding the health of their smiles. For this reason, we feel compelled to express our disagreement with the suggestion that flossing may be overrated, and why that’s a harmful position to propagate.
Let’s first look at the article, which uses a lot of language such as:
• “…flossing may be overrated.”
• “…most of the current evidence fell short…”
• “That flossing has the same benefit is a hunch that has never been proved.”
• “…there is some mediocre evidence that flossing does reduce bloody gums and inflammation known as gingivitis.”
There is a stark difference between something ‘not having been proved’ and something being ‘disproved’. Please know that there is no evidence remotely close to suggesting the latter. In fact whether the evidence is “mediocre” or not, the only evidence the article does mention (quoted above) is in favor of flossing. A lack of ability to prove something is not cause to discourage an entire population from participating in a highly beneficial component of their health care. This is particularly true because evidence is acquired by conducting large-scale studies, which are extremely costly. It would hardly be economical to spend the research funding to prove something we already have no doubt offers a variety of benefit for your oral and overall health.
We do not agree with the article’s brash call to action, or more accurately, call to inaction, and we fear how this may increase the number of people inflicted with preventable damage to their smile. Looking again at the line “…there is some mediocre evidence that flossing does reduce bloody gums and inflammation known as gingivitis.” Gingivitis is the first stage in periodontal disease – the very condition flossing aims to combat. To reduce gingivitis is to reduce your chances of progressing into advanced gum disease, a condition more than half of Americans already suffer from (CDC).
It is unfortunate the scale of damage this article has the potential to incite; too many readers will take this “lack of evidence” as being evidence to the contrary, and feel it gives them permission to neglect a very essential part of their oral health care.
We can only do our best to keep our patients like you educated and on the path to a lifelong happy and healthy smile – a path that certainly includes consistent flossing.
CDC: “Periodontal Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Mar. 2015. Web.
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