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Hot Topic: The Floss Debate

By Nicole Mitchell


To floss or not to floss, that is the question. Whether tis nobler between the teeth to suffer the plaque and food debris-ok, I’ll stop now. I am a fan of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but I have never been a fan of flossing. I remember being around 12 years old, sitting in the chair of my dental office when during my regular visit my hygienist pulled back from me, lowered her mask and looked me square in the eyes. “You need to floss every day, and every night. I can show you the best way to do it; otherwise, you will have to come in for more frequent visits until we can get your gums back in shape.” At 12 I had grown beyond the “I can get a toy at the dental office!” and was in the “I don’t want to be here because my parents want me to be here” phase. I was months away from getting braces. I needed to minimize my time in the dental office as much as possible. I had a riveting social life to get back to.

Even today in adulthood I dislike flossing. I can brush my teeth with one hand and continue to get ready, whereas flossing leaves me stuck in front of the mirror becoming a contortionist trying to get to those very back teeth. So of course when I heard news about medical benefits of flossing being unproven, I almost did a happy dance. No more flossing? Really? What am I going to do with all that extra time I will have gained in the mornings, evenings and after a juicy ear of sweet summer corn?

Before I tossed my bag of floss picks and tiny boxes of spooled mint flavored thread, I decided to look into the news. Turns out, it’s not at all what I expected.

The federal government first included its recommendation for flossing in 1979 in a surgeon’s general report. Since then, it has been a part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans our government issues every 5 years. Except for this year. Under the law, the guidelines must be based on scientific evidence. It has come to light recently there just haven’t been enough comprehensive studies done on the effects of flossing. Most of the studies available on flossing are outdated or haven’t been conducted over a long enough period of time. One study only tested 25 people after flossing one time. One time!

I think it’s pretty easy to conclude no one is actually telling us not to floss anymore, the government has realized it needs more empirical data in order to qualify its recommendation. I suspect several new studies to be popping up soon to back up what your dental professionals have known all along: proper flossing leads to a cleaner healthier mouth, fresher breath and overall healthier body and heart. Plus it’s rather inexpensive and non-invasive, but remember: only floss the teeth you want to keep.

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…Treat Others As You Would Have Them Treat You … Matthew 7:12