Spring 2017

Floss Wars

News reports gave dentists an opening to stress the importance of periodontal health to their patients.

When a news report questioning the scientific evidence behind flossing made the rounds last year, it could have been considered a blow to those in the tooth business. Yet Tufts dentists remained undaunted. In fact, they said, the Associated Press story offered a chance to talk with patients about an oral health ritual that’s never enjoyed a glamorous reputation.

Illustration: Mitch Blunt

The AP examined peer-reviewed studies that generally found “weak” evidence of flossing’s long-term benefits. But the rub, dentists said, is that a long-term, scientifically rigorous study on the subject has yet to be conducted. Many of the studies surveyed were  poorly designed, thus leading to the lackluster results, said Evangelos Papathanasiou, DG11, assistant professor of periodontology.  “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to explain to our patients how important it is to maintain periodontal health,” he said. “It’s been a very good challenge to have to explain what we are trying to do.”

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After graduating from Tufts in 1966, Athena Papas passed on the dental school because she didn’t want to be the only woman in her class. She finally joined the school eight years later as an assistant professor, and in the four decades since has secured dozens of grants for groundbreaking research, helped launch countless life-changing medications and mentored generations of colleagues. Today, half of all dental students are women… and Papas seems to be just getting started.

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