A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Flossing: Do you really need to do it?

Photo of young girl flossing her teeth

Despite recent findings, dentists continue to recommend flossing for a variety of reasons.

“Brush your teeth.”

“Use mouthwash.”

“Don’t forget to floss.”

You probably have had these oral health tips repeated to you throughout your lifetime. Want healthy teeth and gums? Then, follow those three steps.

However, findings have actually called one of these steps into question. A 2016 Associated Press investigation found that there was little proof that flossing provided medical benefits.

Organizations like the American Dental Association addressed that report by continuing to stand by the importance of flossing, stating ‘a lack of strong evidence doesn’t equate to a lack of effectiveness.’

These types of mixed messages can be confusing – especially to a parent who just wants to know whether flossing should be included in their family’s dental routine. To help get to the bottom of this, Dr. Nathan Fiebke, Marshfield Clinic Health System dentist, offers his expertise on the matter.

Still important to your oral health

Fiebke said that although proof on the effectiveness of flossing is limited, dentists continue to recommend doing it.

“There is still solid evidence that cavities are caused by bacteria,” he said. “Studies show bacteria stick to our teeth. They eat the same food we eat and, in turn, produce acids that effectively burn holes (cavities) in our teeth. To break this cycle, dentists recommend removing the bacteria – and although toothbrushes can reach most surfaces on our teeth, there are some places they can’t get to.”

Those hard to reach spaces are where flossing comes into play.

“I believe flossing is one effective method to make sure you are removing the bacteria that is between your teeth,” Fiebke said.

Additional health benefits

In addition to avoiding cavities, flossing also may have some additional, lesser-known benefits.

“There is a growing body of evidence that good oral health can reduce your risk of negative health events such as stroke or cardiovascular disease,” he said. “I believe flossing plays a positive role in maintaining good oral health.”

Perfect for your whole family

When it comes down to who should floss, Fiebke’s answer is simple: everybody.

“I believe flossing is important for everyone to do,” he said. “I do give special advice to parents of small kids – ‘make time to floss between the two teeth in the back of all four corners (baby molars.)’ If you can get to all of your child’s teeth, that’s a great way to develop good habits – but those molars are especially important.”

Fiebke recommends flossing twice every day. “If you are an all-star caliber brusher, use fluoride toothpaste, have a low sugar diet, and are in generally good health, you might be able to floss a little less,” he said. “But, in general, I tell everyone that flossing in the morning and before bed is ideal.”

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