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You may have heard recently that the Associated Press looked at over 20 different studies to assess the effectiveness of flossing. Their findings were quite surprising: they said there were little to no benefits! However, many dentists are raising?an eyebrow and sharing their take on these studies.

For instance, Michigan dentist Susan Maples says that when her patients floss, their gum issues get noticeably better. She says that if you don’t floss, then your gums will become?a gateway for bacteria to easily infiltrate the bloodstream. You can hear more about Dr. Maples’s findings and take a look at both sides of the argument in a Fox 47 news report:

If the Fox 47 News interested you, you may also want to take a look at a CBS News report:

A Big Problem with Flossing

When the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed, without notice. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required.

The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.”?Read the full story . . .

Just like the Fox report, CBS also invited a proponent of flossing–and big surprise, it was a dentist with numerous years of experience. The dentist–Dr. Steven Glassman–had similar experiences as Dr. Susan Maples: that their patients who started flossing again were able to reduce their oral issues.

Since dentistry is a scientific, medical-based field, one has to wonder why there is such a disconnect between these studies and what dentists are actually seeing.?Another dentist–Dr. Tim Iafolla–may have some answers. Like Dr. Glassman and Dr. Maples, Dr. Iafolla can also testify that he can tell when an individual does or doesn’t floss. He says that news reports are misconstruing the evidence. Just because no benefits were found doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Because gum diseases can develop gradually, longer studies may be required for more accurate results.

Iafolla?also says that there have been smaller studies that have clearly shown benefits if the flossing?is done correctly. If a person is sawing back and forth with the floss, they could actually damage their gum tissues–so of course, flossing will only be of benefit to a patient if they’re using proper technique.

Even though there have been negative studies, The National Institute of Health released a blog post this month that pointed out that there were studies showing that flossing reduced gingivitis:

Don?t Toss the Floss! The Benefits of Daily Cleaning Between Teeth

If dentists?and maybe even your personal experience?suggest that regular flossing keeps your mouth healthy, then why the news reports? It?s because long-term, large-scale, carefully controlled studies of flossing have been somewhat limited.

Researchers have found modest benefits from flossing in small clinical studies. For instance, an analysis of 12 well-controlled studies found that flossing plus toothbrushing reduced mild gum disease, or gingivitis, significantly better than toothbrushing alone. These same studies reported that flossing plus brushing might reduce?plaque?after 1 or 3 months better than just brushing.

Another research challenge is that large, real-world studies of flossing must rely on people accurately reporting their dental cleaning habits. And people tend to report what they think is the ?right? answer when it comes to their health behaviors?whether flossing, exercising, smoking, or eating. That?s why well-controlled studies (where researchers closely monitor flossing or perform the flossing) tend to show that flossing is effective. But real-world studies result in weaker evidence.

?The fact that there hasn?t been a huge population-based study of flossing doesn?t mean that flossing?s not effective,? Iafolla says. ?It simply suggests that large studies are difficult and expensive to conduct when you?re monitoring health behaviors of any kind.? While the scientific evidence for flossing benefits may be somewhat lacking, there?s little evidence for any harm or side effects from flossing, and it?s low cost. So why not consider making it part of your daily routine? Read full blog post here . . .

So if a patient goes in for oral exams and his or her dentist recommends flossing, they may want to heed the warning. Because there have been studies for and against flossing, it could be confusing to know which ones are more sound–but that’s where a dentist’s experience comes in.?And since flossing is such an easy, low-risk habit, it seems that a dentist’s recommendation should trump these studies, especially if a patient has oral issues. After all, what do they have to lose?

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