Thank You Mainstream Media for the Job Security: A Rebuttal to the New York Times and Associated Press Articles on Flossing

August 31st, 2016 by Bash Dental

A Contribution from Dr. Karen Guo

While the New York Times and Associated Press articles on flossing do raise some interesting perspectives on the lack of reliable research, they overstep their boundaries to report that flossing is unnecessary.  The articles fail to back up their dramatic titles properly and misguide readers in the following ways:

  1. Presuming gingivitis is not a dangerous chronic disease
  2. Misleading readers into believing that not needing to floss is an “open secret” among dental professionals
  3. Equating the lack of research on the effectiveness of flossing with an absolute conclusion that flossing is pointless

Bash Dental, the top 24/7 emergency dentist in Lansdale, PA, believes that flossing is necessary for maintaining proper oral health.

Incorrect Presumption

As a dentist, I wouldn’t be in such an outrage over these articles if I did not have my patients’ best interest in mind. If my patients all took the time to brush and FLOSS meticulously, I would certainly be out of a job and in dire straits, so hats off to New York Times for the extra business.

In the New York Times article, the author mentions that there is evidence that “flossing does reduce bloody gums and inflammation known as gingivitis.”

The article goes on to say that gingivitis is a gateway to an insidious, chronic and irreversible disease known as periodontitis.  What the article fails to address is that flossing catches patients in stages of gingivitis to prevent progression to periodontitis (which ultimately leads to tooth loss). There is nothing like having to tell healthy 20-year-old patients that they need all of their teeth extracted and replaced with dentures because no one caught them in the stage of gingivitis and required them to floss.

If flossing could save me one of those horrible conversations, the whole practice of flossing would be worth it. Furthermore, even in the absence of evidence that flossing prevents decay, the mere conclusion that flossing prevents gingivitis is plenty for me to continue recommending patients to floss.

Grand Conspiracy?

Apparently, I have been left in the dark about current dental practices because I am not in on the practical joke that flossing is not effective. The New York Times refers to the futility of flossing as an “open secret” among dental professionals. 

Well, I haven’t been clued into that secret, neither has my boss, my hygienist, my dental school, not even the American Dental Association (ADA) has knowledge of this so-called “secret.” Otherwise, why would the ADA continue to recommend flossing on its website? This type of accusation only leads to mistrust of healthcare professionals. 

No, I absolutely would not have you spend two minutes of your day dragging a string through your teeth as a practical joke. No, I wouldn’t have my hygienist spend countless hours and my boss spend countless dollars painstakingly teaching and reteaching flossing techniques just for funsies. 

The point is the idea that flossing is not beneficial and that dental professionals are somehow “in” on this ideology and yet are still recommending patients to floss, is completely inaccurate.

Lack of Research

I think that the takeaway we can garner from the anti-flossers articles is that there isn’t that much evidence on the subject and that people just are not flossing correctly. After investigating the correlation between flossing and tooth decay, the research comes up staggeringly short!

Why? The research funding for a harmless preventive practice is difficult to obtain in the face of bigger health threats like cancer and heart disease.  Unfortunately, a longitudinal study spanning enough time to allow teeth to demineralize enough to form interproximal (between the teeth) decay is a dental researcher’s pipe dream.  Also, the ethical implications of having patients not floss and develop decay simply for the sake of research makes this type of study impossible to put into practice.

That being said, our articles do admit that in a study with school-aged children who were flossed by dental professionals five days a week over two years, there was a 40 percent reduction in the risk of cavities. Many other studies found no significant difference between flossing and not flossing. What does this mean? Patients are flossing incorrectly! In spite of all of my strong objections to anyone that reports that flossing is unnecessary, the New York Times gets one thing right! 

We, as dental professionals have a responsibility to be teaching our patients how to floss correctly and when all is said and done, I am thankful that these articles give us a platform to re-emphasize the importance of good oral hygiene habits for optimal oral health.

To learn more about the importance of flossing, contact Bash Dental, the best emergency dentist in Philadelphia.

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