Michaela O'Neill, President of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy responds to the latest research about the effectiveness of dental floss.

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Flossing is big news! Who would have thought that whether or not to use a few inches of white minty string to help clean our mouths would rock the whole dental world to its roots?

When the story broke in the national press and on radio that flossing may not be all it's cracked up to be it immediately made our professional lives more difficult. How are we supposed to ensure that our patients continue to clean between their teeth when supposedly the evidence, and the press, tell them it may be worthless?

As dental professionals, this is a problem that we face on a regular basis. The mainstream press loves a negative story about the dental world. And every time one appears the same lazy stereotypes of dental professionals are circulated, we have to go about regaining the confidence of the public yet again.

When it comes to flossing, the message - and our responsibility - remains clear: it is important that we continue to educate people that interdental cleaning is a vital part of their oral health routine.

An investigation by the Associated Press (AP), published in August, has suggested that there is no definitive evidence that using dental floss prevents dental caries or gum disease. AP states that evidence for flossing is "weak, very unreliable," of "very low" quality, and carries "a moderate to large potential for bias".

The danger of this is the public will react to it by now disregarding interdental cleaning entirely, leading to more and more periodontal problems in our waiting rooms. Far too many people are unaware of how best to clean between their teeth, they believe floss is the only option, it is our responsibility to let people know about the (scientifically proven) ways to effectively clean our whole mouths by highlighting the continued importance of regular interdental cleaning.

Putting flossing to one side for a moment, there is a plethora of evidence, as well as incidental evidence, showing that regular interdental cleaning , with interdental brushes or air flossers for example, plays an important role in our oral health routine.

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.

It is this information that we have a responsibility to communicate to our patients and the further wider public.

A lot of the problems we have seen during the flossing discussion have stemmed from the mainstream press's love of a negative dental story. It sells papers, gets clicks online and makes for a snappy tweet.

Many people already see their dental team in a negative light, and this only reinforces their ideas. We may not be able to change this anytime soon but we can continue to debunk the myths and fill in the gaps that may have been missed, or misreported, by the press.

This will undoubtedly happen after the flossing story: we will get a deluge of questions about whether people should floss or not and, as far as we are concerned, the argument on flossing is a 'non-story'. There is no suggestion that flossing can be damaging to oral health - just limited evidence as to its effectiveness. If a patient is flossing, and flossing well, it will cause no harm.

In the meantime, we await the next big dental story that will put us on the front pages. What is the betting that it will be a positive one?

(Taken from 'The Probe' magazine September 2016)