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    Is the Associated Press right? Response to the AP regarding the benefits of flossing

    The Associated Press released a report saying that flossing had no proven benefits—but dental professionals believe that isn't the case.

    The Associated Press (AP) came out with a report earlier this week stating there are no proven benefits to flossing. Working in dentistry, we know how important cleaning in interproximally is, not only for oral health but for overall health.

    The AP stated the evidence for the benefits of flossing is weak, very unreliable, of very low quality and has a potential for bias. The AP also stated all the studies were over too short of a time and have not enough participants. It is concerning that national news stories like this come out with blanket statements not giving context to these studies, let alone citing the research they are referring to. The AP also stated that the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture said that the effectiveness of floss had never been researched.

    Let’s first clear up one thing regarding there being no studies that show the benefits of flossing. This is patently false. Just one example is a 2006 study titled “Dental Flossing and Interproximal Caries: a System Review.” Here Hujoel, Cunha-Cruz, et. al. performed a comprehensive study on children aged four to 13 with 808 participants. This study was done over the course of a year and a half with six total trials. The trials were broken into three categories with a control group attached to each one to get to the total of six. The trials were:  1) professionally flossed five days a week, 2) professionally flossed one every three months, and 3) self-reported flossing at home.

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    The results of this study were clear. Those who were flossed professionally five days a week had a 40 percent decreased risk of caries. Being flossed professionally every three months and flossing at home showed no decrease in risk of caries. This is where things may be confusing for people reading the results. If people who flossed at home showed no decrease in the risk of caries, then flossing obviously doesn’t work, right? Not quite.

    The key here is being flossed professionally. In other words, those children in the study were being flossed correctly by a dental professional. Just because somebody flosses at home (with or without braces) doesn’t mean they are doing it correctly. In fact, this study shows that when patients don’t know the proper techniques of flossing, they don’t get the benefits of it. It’s as simple as that. When somebody is flossed with the proper techniques, or “professionally” as this study calls it, the decreased risk of caries is clear. This is where the context of the studies mentioned by the AP is so important, yet negligently left out.

    Continue to page two for more...

     

    Kara Vavrosky, RDH
    Kara Vavrosky, RDH is an Editorial Director at Modern Hygienist, a part of the Modern Dental Network. She is best known for running the ...

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