British dental experts have advised people to continue flossing despite claims that there is no evidence to prove it stops gum disease or prevents cavities.
The NHS is looking into whether the practice should still be recommended after health officials in the US quietly dropped guidance to floss, after admitting it had no scientific basis.
It follows an investigation by the Associated Press in the US, which found that most studies into flossing were unreliable and open to bias.
However, dental organisations in Britain urged the NHS to keep the current recommendation, claiming that they had seen real benefits in the surgery.
The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy said regular interdental cleaning was still a valuable part of an oral health routine whether with a brush or floss.
Mr. Michaela ONeill, President of the BSDHT, said: “Although flossing has not been proven to be effective, one of the major problems of the research so far is that it makes some conclusions that cannot be applied to all patients. Patients are individuals and consequently have different needs.
“Tooth brushing alone only cleans three of the five surfaces of our teeth, so cleaning between our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene as it helps to prevent gum disease by removing plaque from any areas missed by brushing alone.
“In recent years, gum disease has been linked with serious health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, poor pregnancy outcomes and even dementia.
“Regular interdental cleaning removes the biofilms that develop in-between teeth. This is commonly called plaque and hosts various microorganisms which, if left in situ, can lead to dental decay. It is this plaque that we aim to remove daily.”
The NHS currently states on its website that dental floss “helps to prevent gum disease by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth” which can build up and cause inflammation. The NHS website includes a seven-step guide for flossing.
Yet, scientific advisers at the British Dental Association have claimed it is largely ineffective and instead recommends interdental brushes.
Professor Damien Walmsley, the BDA’s scientific adviser confirmed floss can be ‘of little value’.
Last year, investigative journalists at AP asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture in the US for their evidence that flossing works.
In a letter to AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, and when the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed.
But the British Association of Periodontologists (BSP) said that flossing was useful where interdental brushes were too large to use.
Mr. Philip Ower, president of the BSP said: “Floss is not a waste of time. It is a viable alternative to interdental brushing where appropriate.
“The British Society of Periodontology has launched a national gum awareness campaign. One of the key messages is that daily interdental cleaning is an important health measure to prevent the onset of gum disease.”
Individual dentists also said they had seen visible improvements when their patients used floss or interdental brushes.
“I have seen a marked reduction in plaque through flossing in the practice,” said Dr. Richard Marques, of Wimpole Street Dental in London.
“I agree that flossing can be of little use where the gaps between the teeth are bigger. In these cases, interdental brushes or water flosser machines are better.
“However, when the gaps of the teeth are tight, or the teeth are overlapping and crowded, floss is the best way to remove the plaque between teeth.
“Whatever happens, some form of interdental cleaning is needed. Cleaning between teeth is very important for gum health, as plaque between teeth can lead to gum inflammation, which can ultimately result in tooth mobility and eventual tooth loss.” – Sarah Knapton