News and Commentary

It’s Official: Flossing Is A Waste Of Time

The guilt of having to tell your dentist “no” when they ask, “Have you been flossing regularly?” can finally be jettisoned, according to an Associated Press report on Tuesday.

The federal government, along with every dentist on the planet, has been telling people that flossing is a vital part of dental health for decades, but the information they based that recommendation on is non-existent.

That’s right, since 1979’s Surgeon General’s report and later in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, under law that states the recommendations must be based on scientific evidence, the government has been promoting flossing. Yet when AP asked the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for their evidence, and followed up with written requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the agencies “acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched.”

“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 majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal,” said one review conducted last year. Another 2015 review cites “inconsistent/weak evidence” for flossing and a “lack of efficacy.”

One study review in 2011 did credit floss with a slight reduction in gum inflammation – which can sometimes develop over time into full-fledged gum disease. However, the reviewers ranked the evidence as “very unreliable.” A commentary in a dental magazine stated that any benefit would be so minute it might not be noticed by users.”

So this year, when the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines, the flossing recommendation was mysteriously removed without comment.

Of course, the American Dental Association, which has been telling people to floss since 1908, and the American Academy of Periodontology have pushed back, citing other studies as proof of their claims that flossing prevents buildup of the build-up of plaque, gingivitis, and tooth decay. But AP notes, “most of these studies used outdated methods or tested few people. Some lasted only two weeks, far too brief for a cavity or dental disease to develop. One tested 25 people after only a single use of floss. Such research, like the reviewed studies, focused on warning signs like bleeding and inflammation, barely dealing with gum disease or cavities.”

Even the major companies such as Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, which make large profits in the $2 billion dollar global market, can’t point to any strong evidence of the benefits of flossing.

In fact, the only reason to floss may be the fact that the Brits say it’s not important. Count dentist Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the British Dental Association, told AP, “It’s important to tell people to do the basics. Flossing is not part of the basics.”

Presumably he followed up that statement with a…

The A.P.’s video report below:

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