Flossing: the scourge of the oral hygiene world and now, perhaps, one of the most pervasive lies the planet has ever known.
Daily flossing has long been promoted as key to the prevention of gum disease and cavities. There’s just one problem. According to a major investigation by the Associated Press, there’s little scientific proof that it actually does anything.
“The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is ‘weak, very unreliable,’ of ‘very low’ quality, and carries ‘a moderate to large potential for bias,’” the news service reports.
Major organisations like the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology say flossing is critical to dental health, but the AP found that the studies used to back up this claim are marred by various major flaws (outdated methods and insufficient sample sizes, for instance). Other studies are designed and paid for by companies that sell floss, which is problematic for reasons it shouldn’t take one of the world’s most respected news agencies to sniff out.
This year the U.S. government dropped flossing from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the first time since it was included in 1979. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required for inclusion in the guidelines.
Many are now wondering if we have been strung along by a flossing fable for years, and you may already be itching to oust the minty-waxed from your medicine cabinet.
Not so fast. US National Institutes of Health dentist Tim Iafolla agrees that science doesn’t yet adequately support flossing, but he remains in favour of regular between-teeth string cleanings. “It’s low risk, low cost,” he said. “We know there’s a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it.”
Dentists seem to agree. Necessary? Perhaps not. But just because effectiveness hasn’t been proven doesn’t mean it’s been disproven – at least not yet. In the meantime, it may behoove your chompers to keep flossing in your grooming routine, just in case.