Debbie Lord – Cox Media Group National Content Desk
Ok, show of hands. How many of you have stretched the truth a bit when you told your dental hygienist you floss regularly (or, that you floss at all)?
If you are in that group, and, let’s face it, that’s not a small club, here’s some good news for you: The end of floss shaming is in sight.
You might not need to floss anymore…
According to a story from The Associated Press, despite being told by your hygienist, your dentist and the federal government, there’s little proof that flossing daily will prevent gum disease. Or prevent cavities. Or take plaque off your teeth.
It is, however, pretty good for getting that last bit of roast beef from between those molars.
The AP spent a year researching claims that flossing leads to better dental health. Claims that the federal government have used since 1979 to urge Americans to floss. The recommendation came in the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” a guide issued by the federal government, and, supposedly, updated every five years. This year, a year when the guideline was published, the recommendation for flossing did not appear in the guide.
As the AP story points out, the guidelines are required by law to be based on scientific evidence, and that’s where the rubber met the road in the case of flossing. The evidence cited by the AP seems far from scientific. The AP story reads:
“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.”
The story went on to say that the two leading professional groups – the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology, have used other studies to support claims of the benefits of flossing.
According to the AP, “most of these studies used outdated methods or tested few people. Some lasted only two weeks… One tested 25 people after only a single use of floss.
“Wayne Aldredge, president of the periodontists’ group, acknowledged the weak scientific evidence and the brief duration of many studies. In an interview at his private practice in New Jersey, he said that the impact of floss might be clearer if researchers focused on patients at the highest risk of gum disease, such as diabetics and smokers.
Still, he urges his patients to floss to help avoid gum disease. “It’s like building a house and not painting two sides of it,” he said. “Ultimately those two sides are going to rot away quicker.”
Aldredge also said many people use floss incorrectly, moving it in a sawing motion instead of up and down the sides of the teeth. Pressed about the origins of his organization’s endorsement of flossing, he said it may simply have “taken the ADA’s lead.”