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Comment on the medical benefits of dental flossing

05 Aug 2016

There has been widespread international news coverage over the last few days following an Associated Press investigation in the United States which reported the medical benefits of dental floss are unproven.

Responding to news coverage in the UK, Professor Stephen Porter, Junior Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons and Mr Francesco D’Aiuto, Head of Periodontology at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, said:

“Although the evidence that cleaning between teeth, such as flossing, can reduce the risk of dental decay (caries) is perhaps equivocal, short-term studies have shown that provided the method is appropriate it can lessen this risk in some patients, as well as that of gum disease. Trials of this area are complex and require participants to be evaluated over very long time courses making it challenging to determine long-term outcomes.

“A working group of the 11th European Workshop on Periodontology in 2015 concluded that cleaning between teeth is considered essential to reduce the risk of progression of periodontal diseases. As the majority of adults have some element of this disorder it seems sensible to clean between the teeth to lessen the risk of further gum disease that can ultimately lead to tooth loss. Lessening the severity of periodontal disease may go towards improving other chronic disorders such as diabetes mellitus or arteriosclerosis.

“It’s clear appropriately designed long-term studies are required to fully determine its exact benefits of methods for cleaning between teeth such as flossing. However, as it is relatively simple to undertake, cheap, not notably time consuming and unlikely to cause adverse side effects it would seem better to err on side of active caution than run the risk of needless pain, bad breathe, loose teeth and eventual tooth loss.”


Notes to editors

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

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