The list of things I would never do with a dental hygienist doesn't include not flossing.

So what would I not do with a dental hygienist?

Oct 18th, 2016

So what would I not do with a dental hygienist?

At the top of the list is not to bother one with a "dental question" on weekends or at a social gathering. I'm not going to make any brash claims that dental hygienists are the hardest working Americans around, but the sheer momentum of occupational injuries or plain ol' aches should convince anyone that the exertion level is high and dangerous. Dental hygienists deserve the weekend off.

I generally don't drink sodas around dental hygienists. It's legal to drink it, of course, except on some school campuses, and an "obesity tax" may be required. No point in aggravating a dental hygienist, though, and over the years my concession has been to drink soda in moderation. (However, I will eat a dessert with a dental hygienist. Whoever decreed "hide the chocolate" when a dental hygienist unexpectedly shows up didn't know what they were talking about. But, you know, getting back to the "flossing thing," a dental hygienist successfully mounts counterattacks against the sweet tooth with the tenacity of a gardener surrounded by weeds).

I wouldn't ask a dental hygienist to check to see if silverware slipped down the drain in the kitchen sink disposal-for the same reason as above. Dental hygienists deserve a break. I wouldn't ask a dental hygienist to check the dog for fleas, but I might ask if I can borrow the loupes. I would probably swipe several pairs of exam gloves for any number of other chores too. One thing I will always do with a dental hygienist is solicit advice about oral care in the home setting. It's not that they possess every possible shred of evidence for home-care techniques. Simply put, dental hygienists are great at evaluating progress with preventive dentistry.

During the Great Flossing Controversy of 2016, everyone (dental professionals, journalists, patients, etc.) had an opinion about flossing. Some of it was quite interesting to read. For example, my colleague at Perio-Implant Advisory, Dr. Scott Froum, took it upon himself to read the same "evidence" reported by the Associated Press that generated the controversy. This little homework assignment resulted in an article titled, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics: The truth behind the importance of flossing."

Froum wrote on Aug. 8, "Although Donn (the Associated Press reporter) is correct in stating that there is a paucity of good studies on flossing and many of the studies do show 'a weak amount of evidence' that flossing reduces plaque and cavities, he has done a big disservice to the public by not explaining what statistics mean ..."

In his conclusion, Dr. Froum states, "Let your patients know that many of the studies used to come up with the assessment by the Associated Press were flawed, short term, or not deemed credible levels of evidence for the above stated reasons. Let them know that the evidence that flossing is beneficial is weak ... but the evidence that it is not beneficial or harmful is even weaker."

The last declaration was likely enjoyed by dental hygienists. After all, the insider joke for decades has been determining how pronounced the lies from patients are. "Oh, I floss every day. Three or four times a day."

Mark Hartley

markh@pennwell.com

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