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Published on December 5, 2012

To floss or not to floss – that is the question

To floss or not to floss – that is the question

Our mouths are like fish tanks and our teeth are the stones, as Ellie Phillips suggests. Think about it for a moment, this metaphor is somewhat true. No matter how many times we floss the ‘stones’, the water still remains dirty – so what’s the point in flossing twice a day?

The controversial topic has sparked several debates over the years and flossing has become part of a push for better oral health. Yet in studies surrounding flossing, most suggest that no amount of ‘self-flossing’ has an effect on tooth decay. For gum disease studies this has been more positive but it begs the question – why are dentists recommending floss when alternatives may prove to be more effective?

One of the alternatives is mouthwash, which again most of us mix into our daily oral health routine. But the most revolutionary alternative is xylitol. Xylitol is a natural sweetener, which dates from 2,500 years ago in a book of Chinese herbal cures. The benefits of this natural remedy is highlighted by a study of mothers who chewed xylitol gum during pregnancy, their children were 70% less likely to have tooth decay by the age of 5. Many other studies have also proven the benefits of xylitol in preventative dentistry.

If this natural sweetener can help prevent common oral diseases and improve our oral health, why do dentists not recommend it? Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation comments “The dental profession is generally slow to adapt to new ideas, on xylitol, I think it’s probably lack of knowledge”.  It seems as though all the evidence is there but many of us don’t know the benefits yet. Maybe it’s time for a fresh approach to dental health – a combination of fluoride toothpaste, mouthwash, floss and xylitol gum or mints. Let us know what you think!

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