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We Dislike Flossing So Much, We Lie About It

Man flossing teeth

Tell the truth now: Are you really flossing your teeth every day? Or are you just lying about it to your dentist?

If it’s the latter, you have company. A new survey finds that 27 percent of us lie through our teeth about flossing daily — and that figure is probably low, dental experts told NPR.

For some reason, we just don’t relish yanking a thick thread between our tightly packed molars, digging out slimy, bad-smelling bits of food and making our gums bleed. In fact, some of us hate flossing so much, we’d rather clean toilets than do it, according to the survey from the American Academy of Periodontology, the gum disease experts who know you’re not telling the truth about flossing the minute you open your mouth and they see your pathetic, inflamed gums.

Flossing is so distasteful, evidently, that people in the survey said they’d rather do other unpleasant chores, such as wash a sink full of dirty dishes (18 percent), clean the toilet (14 percent), even sit in gridlock traffic (14 percent).

The results are not exactly a big surprise, given a survey last year by the American Dental Association (ADA) that found that only 40 percent of people floss once a day (and how many of them were lying?) and 20 percent don’t ever floss.

So why should we floss? The scientific evidence that it helps seems weak, but dental experts insist that it does. They say flossing helps remove the sticky coating of bacteria in plaque that can build up on teeth, which can lead to gum inflammation and infection. If left untreated, this can eventually result in tooth and even bone loss. The inflammation may also be linked to increased risk of heart problems and diabetes complications. And let’s not forget that flossing can help prevent bad breath by dislodging that moldering food stuck in your choppers.

Flossing’s advantage is that it can remove plaque and food in the tight, tiny spaces between our teeth that brushing can’t reach — if you floss the right way. Don’t saw the floss back and forth between two teeth, which not only doesn’t scrape off the plaque, it can damage the delicate gum tissue, too. The floss needs to rub up and down against the side of each tooth. The ADA has a helpful illustrated guide on how to do this.

As for the research, some recent studies have cast doubt on flossing’s effectiveness, and at least one found that rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash after brushing may do a better job.

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A 2006 study found that brushing and flossing did reduce some plaque buildup, but brushing followed by a mouthwash rinse reduced plaque even more. And in 2012, a review of 12 studies by the respected Cochrane Collaboration found only “some evidence” that brushing and flossing reduced gum disease more than brushing alone, and some “weak” evidence of a small reduction in plaque at one or three months.

So, bottom line: You must brush. Flossing is helpful. And adding a mouthwash rinse afterward may earn you a gold star at your next dental appointment.

Oh, and stop lying to your dentist.

Photo: karens4/iStock

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