by Lucy Elkins Daily Mail
Visits to the dentist are never pleasant. Not only do we have our pearly whites scraped, prodded and drilled, we then have to endure a telling-off for not having flossed.
Dentists insist it will keep our teeth sparkling and free from decay, as well as keeping our gums healthy. Regular flossing has even been said to protect us from heart disease.
Yet, for most of us who try wrestling with the tape, it only results in a cricked neck and bleeding gums.
And now, according to a provocative new book, Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye, it seems that dedicated followers of flossing could actually be wasting their time.
The book is causing waves because it’s written by U.S.-based Dr Ellie Phillips, who was among the first women dentists to train at Guy’s Hospital in London.
She says that flossing – and that goes for whichever gizmo, gadget or bit of tape you choose to use – will do nothing to reduce your risk of tooth decay.
The science, she says, is on her side. Only one study has shown a benefit, and that involved a group of schoolchildren who did not floss themselves, but instead had their teeth flossed by a hygienist five days a week for two years.
And a study published in the British Dental Journal in 2006 found no difference in the number of cavities suffered by adults who flossed and those who did not.
So is Dr Phillips right? Surprisingly, it seems she may be – but only up to a point.
‘In all fairness, there is no evidence that flossing is effective in preventing tooth decay in the long run,’ says Dr Graham Barnby, a dentist from Marlow, Bucks, who is also a member of the Simply Health Advisory Research Panel, which analyses the latest research and medical thinking.
‘So in a sense, she does have a point. Yet although the benefits of flossing may be limited with tooth decay, flossing does have a role in the prevention of gum disease.’
Tooth decay occurs when acid in the mouth eats away at the teeth. This acid is found in foods, but is mainly produced when bacteria in the mouth ‘digest’ sugar – hence the reason sweets rot our teeth.
Gum disease, on the other hand, is caused by plaque – a film of bacteria on the teeth which, if not removed with brushing, irritates the gums, causing them to bleed and recede.
If left, the plaque hardens into tartar, which irritates the underlying bone of the gums and, in severe cases, can lead to wobbly teeth.
Some studies have even linked gum disease to heart disease, as the same bacteria found in the mouth have also been found in the heart.
Christina Chatfield, an independent dental hygienist based in Brighton, who is nominated for hygienist of the year, says effective flossing should help reduce both tooth cavities and gum disease.
She argues that the reason studies have shown it to have little effect is that too few people actually do it properly.
‘The majority of those who do use floss (which I believe to be around five per cent of the population), don’t use it effectively, so it is of minimal benefit to them,’ she says.
‘To remove plaque, you need to hook the floss like a C around the tooth, so it hooks out the plaque from between the contact points of the teeth.
‘I liken bad flossing to trying to clean a bottle neck with a piece of string floating in the middle – which, in effect, is all most people achieve.’
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, says flossing is definitely not a waste of time – provided you’re doing it properly.