It’s your loss if you don’t floss

by Staff Sgt. Justin Lane 86th Dental Squadron

The other day while browsing Facebook for funny fail videos, I came across something even more outrageous. It was an article recently gaining considerable coverage attempting to debunk the need for dental floss by claiming no significant evidence exists to support flossing. In fact, for the first time since its introduction in 1979, this year’s national Dietary Guidelines for Americans does not include flossing as a recommendation. What’s the real story?

I am an oral preventative dental assistant at the 86th Dental Squadron, meaning I have the distinct pleasure of cleaning every square inch of your grill, and not the propane or charcoal kind. Pretty much, I am a subject matter expert in the field of cleaning teeth, and I’d like to set the record straight on flossing.

When a person doesn’t brush their teeth well, food particles left unattended in the mouth become plaque, a sticky deposit on your teeth that turns into a breeding ground for bacteria. While plaque is easily removed by brushing, when it remains too long it morphs into a hard substance called calculus. Even though brushing is a relatively simple preventative measure, we unfortunately see a mild buildup of calculus on most patients’ teeth.

By brushing your teeth alone, you are only able to clean the front and backsides of your teeth. Brushing does not effectively clean between the teeth. Flossing helps remove plaque in the areas that your toothbrush cannot, preventing calculus formation and cavities.

So how could an article state that flossing isn’t important, and why would the U.S. government’s DGA drop its flossing recommendation? Simply put, any health recommendation in the DGA must be grounded in good modern research. Since the 1800s, flossing has been a standard recommendation of U.S. doctors and dentists. As medical research standards have increased in recent decades, conducting new research on the benefits of flossing is costly and time-consuming, especially for a topic so self-evident to professionals dealing with its benefits daily.

Still not convinced? Research is also hard to conduct because so many people floss incorrectly and are not properly removing plaque. Proper flossing is known as the “C-shape” method: gently slide the floss down between two adjacent teeth, wrap the floss around the surface of one side of the tooth like a “C” and then gently bring the floss up again while maintaining the wrapped “C” position. After a few gentle passes, repeat on the other side. Remember, you are not trying to cut down a tree rooted in your gums.

Good flossing takes less than one minute per day. Don’t cheat yourself out of great oral health because of the recent media buzz. If you have any questions regarding your oral health, contact the 86th Dental Squadron at 479-2210. Stay flossy!