Reconnecting Practicing Hygienists with the Nation's Leading Educators and Researchers.

The Furor Over Dental Floss

Have we been wrong for so many years in recommending that patients floss?

By now, you’ve likely heard about the Associated Press (AP) report that claimed the scientific evidence supporting the use of dental floss was “weak.”1 To say that this report rocked the dental hygiene world is an understatement! Dental hygienists responded with passion and disdain, wondering how our longstanding belief in this oral hygiene practice could be so maligned. Have we been wrong for so many years in recommending that patients floss? Because the AP report was written on the basis of the available research related to the effectiveness of dental floss, let’s look at this from a purely evidence-based perspective.

We all know that the evidence-based approach involves three equally important aspects:

  • Reviewing the currently available scientific data
  • Considering the patient’s needs and wants
  • Using our best clinical judgment and experience

When the AP report is viewed in the context of a comprehensive evidence-based method of practice, it’s logical to conclude that floss may be beneficial for some patients, but not for all. Evidence-based care does not mean basing decisions solely on research—the other two aspects are just as significant when making recommendations to patients. Just as you would not recommend a 6-month recare schedule for all patients, you would not recommend that everyone floss. A “one size fits all” approach is not appropriate in oral health care.

The crucial message to share with patients is that interdental cleaning is key to good oral hygiene. The AP report’s “toss the floss” message doesn’t make this distinction, so patients may understandably think that interdental cleaning of any type isn’t necessary. In fact, after the AP story was released, the United States Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement about the benefits of interdental care.2 So, while our love of floss may be slightly less than it once was, for some it is still effective. Using your best judgment and considering what’s most effective for each patient will lead to the right decision. That’s what evidencebased care is all about.

 Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
     Editor in Chief


  1. Donn J. Medical benefits of floss unproven. Available at: article/ f7e66079d9 ba4b4985d 7af350 619a 9e3/ medical-benefits-dental-floss-unproven. Accessed August 13, 2016.
  2. Manchir M. Government, ADA recognize importance of flossing. Available at: 2016-archive/august/association-responds-to-news-story-challenging-benefits-of-dental-flossuse? source=facebook. Accessed August 13, 2016.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. September 2016;14(09):10.

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