Rutgers dentist recommends flossing despite relaxed federal guidelines
Due to a lack of scientific evidence proving it is beneficial for oral health, flossing has been taken off federal government guidelines after nearly four decades of recommending patients do so.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for their evidence on the effectiveness of flossing. In response, the agencies examined 25 studies published over the past decade that compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss, ultimately finding that the evidence for flossing was not strong enough.
In fact, flossing can occasionally cause harm, the Associated Press relayed in a widely cited report.
Careless flossing can damage gums, teeth and dental work, according to the article, while also dislodging bad bacteria that invade the bloodstream and cause dangerous infections, especially in people with weak immunity.
But one Rutgers professor says flossing is still an important part of dental hygiene.
Andrew Sullivan, interim chair of the Department of Periodontics at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, acknowledges the lack of scientific evidence, but stresses that flossing is beneficial for gum health as well as overall oral health.
Flossing cleans the area in between the teeth, which brushing misses. It is an important area to keep clean because many cavities get started between the teeth, he said.
“My recommendation is daily flossing. I think if people floss once a day, they’re doing a tremendous amount of good. As a minimum, once a day," Sullivan said.
There is an improvement in oral health with people who begin flossing, he said.
Despite the recent government findings, dentists have seen benefits when patients floss for more than a decade, he said.
The new guidelines center around a misinterpretation of evidence-based science, Sullivan said. Just because a recommendation does not have rigorous scientific evidence does not mean it should be discarded.
“The government wants everything evidence-based, but some things are still in waiting (for) the science behind them, (and) they’re still important,” he said.
Sullivan said it is important to note that the government did not say to stop flossing.
“It’s a big controversy blown way out of proportion. I think, unfortunately some people will stop flossing and that’s not going to benefit anyone," he said. "I’m sure in medicine there are many things that are recommended that aren't rigorously scientifically proved. I think that’s the basic message."
Jubilee Prasad Rao, a fourth-year graduate student with the School of Engineering, said he brushes his teeth for 15 minutes a day but does not floss.
“I just don’t see the use in flossing,” he said.
Jessica Guzman, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, also does not floss.
“It’s not something I grew up with," she said. "It wasn’t emphasized as much as brushing your teeth. When I got older and had braces in I probably should have, but I still didn’t."
Sanjana Chandrasekharan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.