To Floss Or Not? Should It Really Be A Debate?

Posted on Aug 01, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

If you could see what I see.

Most of us see very little of the insides of our mouths. As a matter of fact, until the arrival of intra-oral cameras, it was sometimes challenging to convince patients that they needed treatment for certain things that didn’t hurt.

Intra-oral cameras are designed to give patients, while seated in the treatment chair, clear, enlarged views of specific areas in the mouth. When an individual can see red, receded gums or deep tooth fractures, the decision to treat often changes from IF to WHEN.

As a periodontal specialist, I treat all levels of periodontal disease. Over the years, I’ve helped patients go from nearly losing their natural teeth to saving them and having a healthy, confident smile. It’s impressive when a person goes from taking their oral health for granted to being highly committed.

Yet, I still find myself trying to convince some people that daily flossing is an advantage. It DOES make a difference! According to the Delta Dental Oral Health and Well-Being Survey (

“Only four of 10 Americans floss at least once a day, and 20 percent never floss.”

Perhaps this is one reason why over 47% of American adults have some level of gum disease, which is also the leading cause of tooth loss. While brushing twice daily helps to remove oral bacteria buildup (a sticky film known as plaque) from tooth surfaces, bits of food caught between teeth aren’t easily dislodged by the bristles of a tooth brush.

Over recent years, a few studies have shown minimal benefit from flossing. Yet, upon closer scrutiny, flaws in the studies were quickly argued. For example, one study followed children who were allowed to floss their own teeth.

It has been noted that the flossing technique can be what makes the action less effective, rather than the act of flossing itself. For example, the American Dental Association recommends curving the floss along the sides of each tooth and firmly, but carefully, motioning it up and down. This moves the floss gently down to reach slightly below where the tooth connects with the gum tissues, getting at the ‘hiding’ spot for much oral bacteria accumulation.

Like the intra-oral camera, having a firsthand, enlarged view of what’s going on in a mouth is a powerful image. If you looked at a stand of floss under a microscope AFTER flossing your teeth, you’d have a pretty frightening impression of exactly what you DO NOT want crawling around and breeding in your mouth.

Oral bacteria are micro-organisms. In other words, they’re bugs living and reproducing in the mouth. Saliva flow is designed to help rinse these out during the day. However, brushing thoroughly twice a day is what keeps them to manageable levels.

Flossing grabs those bits that are left behind. If not removed, these left-behind pieces begin to rot and add to bacteria levels in the mouth. Oral bacteria gets its strength in numbers. The more there are, the more rapidly they multiply.

Keeping oral bacteria levels under control takes a commitment, yet requires just minutes a day. The reason your mouth feels ‘fuzzy’ and you feel your breath is bad when it’s dry is because saliva has been depleted and oral bacteria is running rampant. Add sugary foods and beverages and acidic colas and you super-charge oral bacteria further.

As research shows on a continual basis, your overall health is intricately linked to your oral health. The bacteria of gum disease has shown correlations to a number of serious health problems, including everything from heart disease to preterm babies. Obviously, the small amount of time taken to floss daily – and to do it correctly – is worth the advantages of lowering the risk of developing cavities, gum disease and other diseases and conditions.

We are happy to help our patients develop an at-home care regimen that helps them to enjoy a healthy mouth and fresh breath between regular dental check-ups. Call 828-274-9440 to schedule a thorough examination.



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