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Don't believe the headlines, local dentists say - flossing is important

AP report last week cast significant doubt on technique's effectiveness.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dr. Geoffrey Skinner, left, and Dr. Rod Johnson, co-owner of Total Health Dental, encourage patients to keep flossing despite a recent story by the Associated Press that casts doubt on the efficacy of the practice.Last week, the Associated Press dropped a major bombshell when it reported that the U.S. federal government no longer includes flossing in its list of public health recommendations due to lack of evidence that it is effective.

The Aug. 2 report by Jeff Donn for the AP is scathing, quoting scientific reviews calling evidence for flossing's effectiveness at removing plaque from teeth “unreliable,” “inconsistent” and “weak.” Trade groups like the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology even acknowledged when pressed by the AP that the scientific evidence on flossing is weak, the report claims.

But dentists at Total Health Dental, a practice located at Bridgeport Village in Tualatin, argue that people should not stop flossing, as many news articles picking up the AP's claims have suggested.

Dr. Rod Johnson, a Sherwood-area resident who co-owns the practice, said he “didn't want people to get the wrong idea that they don't have to floss.”

“When you go online and read the internet, that's what the biggest thing is, 'no longer need to floss,'” he said, adding, “I don't want to get the idea that people don't need to floss, because they still need to floss for many reasons, not just because of (cavity) control.”

Dr. Geoffrey Skinner, another dentist at Total Health, acknowledged that the U.S. government had dropped its recommendation that people should floss for good dental health because it felt the studies supporting it “were not strong enough to make that recommendation.” But he argued that was due to small sample sizes and short durations in the studies that may not have fully represented the population or captured the long-term benefits of flossing.

“They're not saying that flossing doesn't benefit; they're just saying that they have to remove it for now because the evidence isn't strong enough,” Skinner said. “Everybody knows that it's a good thing to wash your hands, but it's difficult to have somebody pay for a study of hand-washing to make sure that that's still a good practice.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dr. Rod Johnson, co-owner of Total Health Dental, demonstrates how to floss on a 'patient,' employee Charlotte Louthan.Johnson and Skinner said they have seen evidence that flossing helps combat gum disease and cleans parts of teeth, such as surfaces that touch one another and areas below the gum line, that toothbrushes generally cannot reach.

“Brushing your teeth, you only get about two-thirds of the surface area,” Skinner said. “Something has to be done,” he added, to clean the remaining area. Flossing is the leading technique.

The dentists warned that the symptoms of gum disease may be difficult to recognize — it can cause bleeding gums and halitosis, or bad breath, but it doesn't usually cause pain like a toothache or a stomach ulcer — though the effects can be dramatic. At advanced stages, gum disease can eat away at the bone in which teeth are anchored; in fact, Skinner said, it is the leading cause of tooth loss.

“It's a silent thing that people don't really understand,” said Skinner.

If caught at an earlier stage, gum disease is treatable, but there is little to be done — aside from dentures or dental implants — if it has progressed to the point where the patient's bone has been reduced enough that teeth are falling out, according to Johnson and Skinner.

Despite the U.S. government dropping flossing and the AP report pointing out the lack of evidence that it is effective, Total Health Dental continues to recommend the regular use of flossing or alternate methods of cleaning between teeth, such as using an oral irrigator.

Johnson put it simply: “There's really no reason not to floss.”

Charlotte Louthan, Total Health's public relations director, said, “I had a dentist when I was younger tell me (flossing) costs pennies and it can save you tons. And that's what really got me.”

Johnson said he recommends that anyone who is worried they may have gum disease make an appointment with a dentist, regardless of their practice, to have it checked out.

Total Health Dental is located at 18035 S.W. Lower Boones Ferry Road, in the former offices of Green Apple Dental.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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