Why Tossing the Floss is a Bad Idea

Rutgers School of Dental Medicine’s Andrew Sullivan explains why Americans should keep flossing despite government claims that benefits are unproven

The dental world was left reeling last week after the federal government declared flossing –  touted for decades as a bedrock of oral health care – isn’t scientifically proven to fight plaque.

The news came to light after the Associated Press invoked the Freedom of Information Act to demand scientific evidence of flossing’s benefits. Government officials revealed that 25 studies on flossing produced “weak” and “unreliable” results. Although since 1979, flossing has been recommended under the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s now off the list. Not so for the American Dental Association, and the American Academy of Periodontology, which continue to recommend flossing.

Sign Up for E-News

Rutgers' Andrew Sullivan hopes the debate will be the impetus for researchers to come up with innovative protocols that will answer questions with enough scientific rigor to prove that flossing works.











Most dentists still swear by it, like Andrew Sullivan, chair of the               Rutgers School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Periodontics. Sullivan treats many patients who suffer from periodontitis, an advanced form               of gum disease that deteriorates bone, resulting in pain and tooth loss. He explained to Rutgers Today why tossing the floss is a bad idea.

Why should Americans keep flossing, even if the government no longer recommends it?

Sullivan: I’ve been a dentist 48 years, and for 48 years I’ve been telling patients to floss. Flossing helps with caries, or dental cavities, which often occur between teeth. It does remove plaque, which is the cause of gingivitis and periodontal disease. Brushing does not clean in between the teeth so flossing, or some use of interdental device –  a little brush, or water pick –  is necessary to clean those areas that the brush misses. Water picks can be helpful in flushing away debris, but it’s questionable as to whether they remove plaque.  

What effect has flossing, or not flossing, had on your patients?

Sullivan: The typical patients who come in with periodontal disease have bad oral hygiene; their brushing and flossing are not what we feel they should be. Usually, when they’re put on appropriate oral hygiene procedures, including flossing,  it reduces the clinical signs and symptoms. We see reduced inflammation, reduced bleeding of the gums.

Why has it been hard to prove that flossing works?

Sullivan: One reason might be because it’s difficult to design studies where you’d get approval to have, say, 100 people who are flossing and 100 who aren’t. It might be dangerous for the half that isn’t flossing.

You’re not going to do a study that puts people at risk by asking them not to floss for a long time. In 1965, there was a study that showed plaque leads to gingivitis. Before that, we couldn’t prove it but that study, which was done on dental students, had them go for days without brushing their teeth. There wasn’t significant harm from that. It was reversible. Once they started brushing their teeth again, the gingivitis went away.

Why do so many people hate to floss?

Sullivan: I think people don’t floss because it’s difficult. It’s time consuming, and often because they’ve never been taught how to do it. It can be hard to do correctly. A common mistake is just snapping the floss between your teeth. You have to wrap it around the surface. You can lacerate your gum if you snap it too hard, but I’ve never seen a flossing injury that did permanent damage.

What are you going to tell patients now if they say they’re not going to floss because they heard it doesn’t do any good?

Sullivan: I am afraid the public will dismiss flossing. For some, dropping it from the guidelines will make a difference. I’m going to tell my patients that based on many decades of experience, flossing is valuable, it contributes to oral health and I’m going to continue to recommend it. Maybe the good that will come from this is that there will be an impetus for researchers to come up with innovative protocols that will answer questions with enough scientific rigor to prove that flossing works.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


South Plainfield Students Planning to Walkout in Support of Safer Schools

February 23, 2018

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – In the wake of last week’s tragic school shooting in Florida, students from across the country – including right here in South Plainfield – are joining together for change.

On Feb. 16, the non-profit organization Women’s March launched a Youth EMPOWER movement calling for a national school walkout and publicizing the event on social ...


Christina C. Sweet (Diaz) 79 years, died Monday January 1, 2017 at Robert Wood Johnson University ...
Read more
- Nov 15, 2017
Phillip A. Petracca, also widely known as Filippo Neri in the Italian-American Radio and ...
Read more

New Brunswick and the Civil War:  The Brunswick Boys in the Great Rebellion

February 23, 2018

February 25

(Snow date 3/11)

New Brunswick and the Civil War:  The Brunswick Boys in the Great Rebellion

with local author Joanne H. Rajoppi

2:00PM – 4:00PM

TKTS: members $10, in advance $12, door $15

Limited seating - adv. registration sug.

Light refreshments included

Dutch Door Gift Shop ...

Early Cat in the Hat Visit to Piscataway Regional Day School

NJEA’s Cat In The Hat Visits PRDS

Students at the Piscataway Regional Day School (PRDS) were treated to an early visit from the New Jersey Education Association’s seven foot 'Cat in the Hat', in advance of Read Across America, the annual nationwide celebration of reading.

Wearing the traditional red and white stovepipe hat, the Cat in the Hat, (retired teacher, Marie ...

Trees Have Sex? Rutgers Researchers Have All the Answers

New Brunswick, NJ - A few years ago, Rutgers researcher Jennifer Blake-Mahmud was working on a botany project in Virginia when colleagues pointed out a striped maple, a common tree in the understory of mountain forests from Nova Scotia to Georgia. 

“They told me, ‘We think it switches sex from year to year, but we don’t know why,’ and I said, ‘No ...

Upcoming Events


Sat, February 24, 2:00 PM

Metlar-Bodine House Museum, Piscataway

New Brunswick and the Civil War:  The Brunswick ...

Arts & Entertainment

Sat, February 24, 2:00 PM

Edison High School Auditorium, Edison

Free community viewing of "BAG IT" - Award ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

Sat, February 24, 4:00 PM

American Legion, South Plainfield

Boy Scout Troop 207 Spaghetti Dinner

Food & Drink

Sun, February 25, 1:00 PM

St. David's Episcopal Church, Cranbury

Organizing for the 2018 Mid-terms: Elections, ...

Education Giving Back Government


Tue, February 27, 7:00 PM

Cranford Community Center, Cranford

“Olmsted By Design!” Free First-Person, Dramatic ...

Arts & Entertainment Green Home & Garden

Shouts of Racial Slurs Bring Police to Sparta Theatre

February 21, 2018

SPARTA, NJ – Sparta police were called to the New Vision Sparta Theater on Sunday night because of a woman shouting slurs in a screening of Black Panther.

Former New Jersey Assembly candidate Michael Grace was in the theater when two people started yelling racial slurs including “look at these ‘n-word’” and “can you believe these ...

How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

February 15, 2018

Guest Column

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred yesterday. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The ...

Let the Games Begin

I am truly awed by the Olympics.  Watching these superb young athletes on TV inspires me to renew my membership to the gym and pursue my lifelong dream of taking home the gold.  


The problem is that in my deluded head, I can see actually see myself standing atop the podium.  I am wrapped in a puffy designer ski coat with a huge piece of bling slung around my neck ...

The Best Way to Pay Your Child a Compliment

“Of course you’re good-looking.”  “You’re the best friend ever.”  “Who wouldn’t want you on their team?”  Is there a parent out there (including me) who hasn’t praised a child in order to make him or her feel better?  Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes we say it because we just can’t stand to see them ...

Height during childhood associated with increased stroke risk in adulthood

Researchers in Denmark studied the health records of more than 300,000 people born between 1930 and 1989 and found that those who were shorter than average height between ages 7 and 13 had a greater risk of stroke as adults. The results of this study were published in the February 15, 2018 issue of the journal Stroke.

Summary: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320922.php

Journal ...

Very Hot Tea Increases Cancer Risk

Researchers in China studying the consumption of “burning” hot tea, alcohol, and smoking habits of greater than 450,000 people ages 30 –79 for more than nine years found a five time greater risk of esophageal cancer in those who engaged in all three of the behaviors and a two time greater risk in those who either smoked or drank alcohol and consumed burning hot tea as compared ...