Irish dentists tell patients not to stop flossing teeth

Change in US guidelines should not change your routine – so how should we clean our teeth?

Recent US dietary guidelines may have stopped recommending flossing your teeth, but Irish dentists say not to throw out the dental floss just yet.

Although the US federal government said this week that flossing has no research- or evidence-based advantages for oral health, Irish dentists believe that it can prevent cavities and gum disease – and today urged their patients not to stop.

"Most cavities that come into the clinic here are what we call flossing cavities, because most people out there don't floss," says Dr Daniel Collins from Docklands Dental in Dublin 2. "Most of the time when a patient comes to see me I find they have a problem between the teeth. It tends to be foods that have been left dormant between your teeth which cause cavities."

Dr Niall Neeson of Boyne Dental in Navan, Co Meath says that there has been controversy in the past about whether flossing can reduce decay. However, he says he would still recommend cleaning between your teeth in order to prevent illnesses such as gingivitis (an inflamation of the gum tissue).


“I don’t think it can be argued that dental plaque contributes to dental disease... equally, cleaning between the teeth will remove a substantial amount of that plaque that otherwise will be there. For me, removing the source of the problem can only be a good thing,” he says.

The American health, human services and agriculture departments removed their recommendation to floss when Freedom of Information requests from Associated Press reporters queried the evidence behind its effectiveness.

The president of the Irish Dental Association, Dr PJ Byrne, says however that flossing still has a role to play in oral hygiene.

“There is a lack of modern scientific evidence in terms of the reduction of dental decay between the teeth achieved as a result of flossing, and that probably explains its omission from the new US guidelines.

“The other key factor is that there have been huge advances in the development of inter dental brushes and these are now probably more effective in preventing or controlling gum disease. However, floss or special types of floss may have a role in particular circumstances for patients,” he says.

Ballyfermot dentist Dr Shane Barnes says that at the moment, there's no reason to stop flossing if you've been doing it up to now. "It's not an evidence-based certainty that flossing is much value at all. But there's certainly no evidence that it'll do any harm, so why wouldn't you?"

What should you really be doing for your teeth?

Dentists recommend:

- Avoid soft drinks and maintain a sensible diet: “Be careful of the frequency of your sugar or alcohol intake, particularly between meals,” says Neeson.

- Brush your teeth twice a day, and continue to clean between your teeth once a day.

- Don’t rinse your mouth out after brushing your teeth. “Once you’ve brushed the teeth, spit out in the sink and then get the bristles of your brush, saturate them in water, [brush over your teeth again], spit out again,” says Dr Collins. “If you don’t eat anything for five or 10 minutes, this will allow the agents in the outer layers to protect that little bit more.”

- Attend your dentist or hygienist regularly for cleaning.