A little more than a month ago, an article appeared in the New York Times that rocked my world to its very foundation. The same news tidbit was widely repeated on NPR and other forms of media. This news challenged the fundamentals of my deepest faith in a way that even a definitive report that there is no God couldn’t have done.
A statement issued by the American Academy of Periodontology acknowledged that most of the current evidence did not support the long touted benefits of flossing one’s teeth, “because researchers have not been able to include enough participants or examine gum health over a significant amount of time.” In other words, the argument was, it is impossible to study flossing as a way to promote dental hygiene because we can’t actually find anyone doing it.
If only they had called me.
I have been flossing and flossing religiously for so long, I actually have no memory of when I started or of a time when I didn’t floss. I remember flossing in college, even in high school. I was probably flossing in junior high. I may have been flossing in elementary school.
I remember vaguely, that early on I discovered how unpleasant it was to have one’s teeth cleaned. In particular, the sensation of having the tartar scrapped off the back of my teeth with one of those metal things (actually called a tartar scraper, Amazon $7.95) was very jarring. My dentist must have told me that if I flossed, my tartar build up would be less and the cleanings would be easier. I tried it and was hooked faster than an athlete with back pain gets addicted to painkillers.
I liked the way it made my teeth and gums feel; it was like a little massage in your mouth. My mouth felt clean and fresh and as a 13 year-old, seeing the ejected food particles spattered all over the bathroom mirror was oddly satisfying. Soon, was unable to go to bed at night without flossing my teeth. In fact, I don’t think I have gone to bed without flossing in, well, let’s call it forty years. How much floss is that? That is 43 kilometers or almost 17 miles of dental floss. And that doesn’t count days that I have flossed more than once (many) or days when it took extra floss to complete the task due to breakage or inferior product.
Of course, I realize that a longitudinal study of one, has as much validity as a City of Flint, Michigan water quality test, but notwithstanding please indulge me as I report my findings.
- just one cavity in the last 30 years.
- no evidence of any preliminary gum disease
- no “deep pockets”
- cholesterol is in normal range as is my blood pressure
- prostate is average for a man my age
- sometimes able to help my wife with the crossword puzzle clues.
Less objective data but more satisfying is the praise of Julie, my dental hygienist, who exclaims every six months when she sees me that my gums look fantastic!
But when that New Times Story broke in early August, I considered for a moment if most of my life had been a complete lie. Had I been wasting tremendous amounts of time, effort, money, and brainpower by taking 3 minutes to floss every day?
With regard to the brain power I can answer a definitive no. You can floss while watching TV. I have done so many times. Do not floss while preparing food however, especially food that you will serve to others.
In reviewing the evidence again, I realized that they didn’t say that flossing wasn't beneficial and certainly not that it would do any harm. It was merely that there isn’t enough evidence to support recommending it. Well that is a pretty low bar, isn’t it? I mean, I do tons of things that are not recommended and some that are actively discouraged. And so….
I am still flossing. Not because I think it makes me virtuous or a better person somehow. If you choose not to floss, I am not judging you. I floss because my gums demand it now. I floss because I can’t sleep with food in between my teeth. I floss for Julie. But most of all, I floss because I love the way it makes me feel. I have run out of toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, even coffee. But I have never run out of floss and I never will.
AAP, please be in touch. I am ready to participate in a long-term study for a modest amount of compensation (free floss for life?)
So if you are like me, keep flossing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are wasting your time. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter. Floss for the sake of flossing, for the love of it. Floss as if your teeth and gums depended on it. Maybe, just maybe, they do.