Actually, the question usually is : How often do you floss? And the answer, if we’re honest with ourselves and our dentist, actually is: Not very often.
Less than half of us floss every day, and around 20 percent of Americans don’t floss at all. After 30 years in dentistry, I’m starting to wonder: Is flossing really necessary?
Research on the topic does not support the long-time advice for flossing twice a day. Authors of an article published in the Journal of Dental Research, for example, did a systematic review of several research studies on the relationship between flossing and the prevention of cavities.
Only one research project – in which children had their teeth flossed by dental professionals every day for nearly two years – showed a dramatic decrease in the risk of cavities. But no one I know has this done.
“Self-performed” flossing – which is what the rest of us (sometimes) do — has not been proven to reduce the risk of cavities. Does that mean we’re off the hook for doing anything besides brushing our teeth? Actually, no. Think about those particles of food that come out when you do floss. Leaving those particles and unseen numberous bacteria between your teeth and at your gum line is just not a good idea.
But alternatives to flossing are certainly available. Those tiny brushes that fit between your teeth are available in a variety of brands, and tend to be easier to use than floss, especially if you wear braces!
Devices that spray of stream of water can also work well. Depending on the brand, they are known as waterpiks, water jets or “oral irrigators.”
The point is: your toothbrush can’t reach everywhere. If you hate to floss, try something else. And for those 20 percent of you, who do nothing besides brush, please note that using a antimicrobial mouthwash is better than doing nothing!
Oh, and for what it’s worth: You can stop lying at the dentist’s office. Your hygienist knows if your flossing or not!