Flossing Lacks Scientific Scrutiny
By now your head is spinning, and you are likely thinking "oh great, if it was tough to promote flossing before, it will be ridiculously hard now." As dental professionals, we know flossing works. We see it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit we don't see it often enough. This is where the science and practicality meet. It's not that flossing doesn't work, it's that it has to be done meticulously to gain the benefit. Unfortunately, most people lack the skillful dexterity to floss well enough to achieve optimal oral health.
A 2013 systematic review by the prestigious Cochrane Group found some evidence that flossing reduces gingivitis and weak evidence that flossing reduces plaque. They also noted that no studies have reported on the effectiveness of flossing for the reduction of caries. If you are wondering how this could be, it's all about compliance. As you know, people start out flossing when they leave your chair, and fall off the wagon pretty quickly. Just because they are part of a research study doesn't mean they will be compliant and meticulous about flossing.
This does not mean that people don't need to clean between their teeth. We know that it is essential. Brushing alone is not enough. As uncomfortable as reports like this make us feel, they also shake us up, and help us find new, easier, and better ways to help our patients clean between their teeth.