We have all heard the saying, “You don’t have to floss all your teeth … just the ones you want to keep.” The phrase may have risen to the level of cliché, but there’s still a lot of wisdom in those words.

A recent article by Jeff Donn of the Associated Press made the case that there’s little scientific research to support the oral health benefits associated with flossing, and works to debunk its importance. The Maine Dental Association, which represents more than 700 dentists in the state, says Mainers who floss are practicing an essential part of taking care of their teeth and gums.

According to the American Dental Association, cleaning between teeth removes plaque that can lead to cavities or gum disease in the areas where a toothbrush cannot reach, and flossing is proven to help remove debris between teeth that can contribute to plaque buildup.

The American Dental Association says more than 500 bacterial species can be found in plaque, with some being good and some being bad for a person’s mouth. Together with food debris, water and other components, plaque buildup around teeth and on the gum line can lead to disease in teeth and gums.

If one does a basic risk/reward analysis, the benefits of flossing or using another interdental cleaner, such as small brushes, special wooden or plastic picks, or water flossers, far outweigh the possible risks. A relatively inexpensive, simple practice can be done to help fend off possible tooth decay and gum disease. The cost of dental work would far outdistance the price you pay for floss or another interdental cleaner.

For some, any excuse to stop flossing is welcome, as they cite the time commitment and simply not wanting to do it. Again, doing a risk/reward analysis shows that for a few minutes a day and some mild inconvenience, the benefits far outweigh the negative effects. For those for which flossing rubs them the wrong way, look at it as a “necessary evil.”

You’ve probably seen the American Dental Association seal on products, including floss. A company earns the ADA seal by producing scientific evidence demonstrating the safety and efficacy of its product in reducing plaque and gingivitis. The ADA Council on Scientific Affairs carefully evaluates the evidence according to objective requirements. To qualify for the seal, the company must provide evidence that using the floss with toothbrushing is more effective than brushing alone at reducing plaque and gingivitis.

A recent article quoted an American Dental Association spokesman recently as saying research dollars are rarely allocated for preventative measures that doctors already know are effective. The logistics of performing a definitive flossing study may be difficult to manage, but maybe the time for such a study has come.

The Maine Dental Association urges Mainers to practice good oral hygiene and floss regularly. Whether floss or another interdental cleaner is used, it is important to understand the proper technique for the tool and to consult a dentist if one has any questions.

The American Dental Association recommends brushing for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between teeth once a day with floss of another interdental cleaner and to visit a dentist regularly.

For nearly 150 years, the Maine Dental Association has worked to improve and maintain the oral and overall health of the people of our state. Our members take their responsibility to their patients very seriously, and our organization will continue to look out for the public health of Mainers. For more information, go to the American Dental Association’s website www.mouthhealthy.org.

So, before you throw that floss away because you don’t think you need it, stop and think about the plaque, tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath that could result. It could be that what you’ve heard all these years from dentists about flossing could be right after all.

Cindy Sullivan is the executive director of the Maine Dental Association.