On August 2, 2016, the Associated Press caused a bit of a ruckus that centered on the merits of flossing. Most people probably thought flossing was a subject free from controversy, but on that summer day in 2016, the Associated Press proved them wrong.

The controversy was caused by this: The AP went looking for some type of empirical evidence that flossing had positive benefits, and there was none. No one had ever conducted a clinical study to prove that flossing was a good thing. Of course, had the AP checked, it would have also discovered a lack of studies showing that stepping in front of a speeding train had negative health benefits, because some things are just common knowledge.

When the Associated Press published its article saying the medical benefits of dental floss were unproven, those who were not prone to flossing anyway were happy to get on board. Soon, articles started popping up telling people to throw away their floss and that they had been conned for decades by dentists in cahoots with some powerful flossing lobby.

Happily, saner heads soon prevailed. Publications including The New York Times ran articles pointing out misconceptions about the relation between scientific research, evidence, and expertise. While flossing may not have been backed up by scientific research, there was plenty of evidence and expertise to prove its value to oral and general health. Eventually, the controversy died away.

Today, just over two years later, flossing is again considered a crucial component in maintaining good oral health. But why? What benefits does flossing provide that can’t be obtained from brushing? And, if it’s so good for you, why don’t more people floss?

In an article on WebMD, Alla Wheeler, associate professor of the Dental Hygiene Program at the New York University School of Dentistry, answers that last question by pointing out that we live in a world of immediate gratification, and the benefits of flossing are unseen and long term. Because teeth may not look or feel markedly improved after a week of flossing, people stop. “Patients don’t think it does anything,” says Wheeler.

What are the benefits of flossing? According to the Journal of Aging Research, an organization definitely not in the pocket of Big Floss lobbyists, one of flossing’s benefits is longevity. A decade-long study of older adult residents of a California retirement community found that those who didn’t floss had a 25% to 29% increased risk of death over the study period. The study also found that using mouthwash or a toothpick were no substitute for flossing.

How can flossing prolong life? When we eat, food particles containing sugars and starches are left between teeth. Bacteria in the mouth feed on these particles, producing acids. Those acids, which stick to teeth and erode enamel, are called plaque. Plaque can turn into tartar, which can result in gingivitis, which can result in periodontitis, which can result in cardiovascular disease. Flossing is one of the only ways to remove both food particles and plaque from between teeth, halting that dangerous chain of events before it starts.

There are many lists of reasons to floss. Here are six of the most common from the global education network, World.edu:

  • Prevent Cavities – Flossing removes food debris and plaque from between your teeth. This is an area that brushing can miss, and it’s where cavities often start.
  • Prevent Gum Disease – A 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that 50% of adults have periodontal disease. If plaque is not removed from gums and between your teeth, which can only be done through flossing, gum inflammation and the first signs of gingivitis will occur.
  • Prevent Bad Breath – Halitosis is caused when plaque is not removed from between teeth or around the gums. Flossing is the only way to clean between teeth.
  • Prevent Heart Disease – Bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream, settling in heart tissue. Heart disease kills more people than any other condition, and flossing could reduce or prevent the number of deaths.
  • Prevent Diabetes Complications – The 30 million Americans with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease, and because diabetics heal more slowly, gum inflammation can occur at a more rapid rate.
  • Prevent Spending Money – One thing preventative dentistry can do is prevent spending a lot of money. Prevention is always cheaper and easier than dealing with a dental issue after it becomes a major problem. Flossing is one of the best ways to prevent future oral health issues.

If, for some reason, you find flossing to be physically challenging, there are a few other things that can substitute:

  • Oral Irrigation – If used properly and regularly, devices such as a Waterpik can take the place of flossing. While oral irrigators won’t remove plaque quite as thoroughly as flossing, it’s an option for anyone who is physically unable to floss.
  • Interdental Brushes (IDB) – Gaining in popularity, interdental brushes can be very effective in removing bacteria and plaque from between teeth.
  • Flossing Sticks – Many people find flossing requires too many steps and too much coordination. Flossing sticks have a short piece of floss attached to a plastic holder. Just grab the handle, push the floss between your teeth, and start flossing.

Choose a flossing method that works best for you, and by vowing to floss every day. Of course, you’ll want to be certain that you’re starting with healthy teeth and gums, which means getting a checkup and perhaps a cleaning. It’s quick and easy. Just schedule a visit to the office of Dr. Brei and Dr. Schneider, and then visit them every six months to maintain the best oral health.

There are many ways to get in touch with the office of Dr. Brei and Dr. Schneider. You can email them at appointments@drbrei.com, call them at 520-325-9000, or click here to book an appointment directly. Contact them today!

May the floss be with you.