For decades dentists and hygienists have cajoled people, particularly in the U.S., to floss their teeth daily to prevent gum disease and cavities. However, it turns out that there is little evidence that a dental floss habit is a proven oral hygiene practice or a mere hoax perpetuated for years. The Associated Press (AP) pushed for evidence and found that the value of flossing is not scientifically proven.
Intuition and personal experience seem to indicate there is a value to flossing between the teeth. It does free up particles that were not unearthed by the toothbrush that could have become plaque or worse.
Flossing fanatics have long touted the practice as beneficial to gum health, thereby improving dental and overall health. Inflamed gums or signs of early gingivitis left untreated can lead to bone loss after many years.
Of course, the flip side is that floss can do harm in some cases. Floss can damage gums and snag dental work. It can also cause gums to bleed, but that tends to happen more often for people who do not floss often.
The federal government has promoted the value of dental floss for almost 40 years. It has appeared in a Surgeon General’s report and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that the feds publish every five years. However, last year, AP asked the government for the dental floss research evidence, which is required to back up the information included in the guidelines. It turned out that there was a lack of conclusive evidence that the oral hygiene practice does prevent cavities or minimize plaque.
AP reported that their staff looked at the research conducted over the last decade, particularly 25 studies comparing the value of flossing along with brushing versus just using a toothbrush. They reported that most did not show a value to flossing. The reviewers called the evidence presented as “very unreliable” and even noted that a dental magazine indicated that the benefit of flossing is “so minute.”
AP’s digging and requests for the evidence has not made the government admit that dental floss support was erroneous or a hoax, but the feds no longer promote the oral hygiene practice. When the latest dietary guidelines were published earlier this year, the flossing recommendation was no longer included.
The government did not draw attention to the deletion. However, AP reported that the feds acknowledged in a letter that the research had not proven the effectiveness of flossing as required, hence the removal of the recommendation.
Part of the issue with research into dental floss is who funded the research – the floss manufacturers. The almost $2 billion global industry includes health care giant corporations, such as Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. The industry designed, paid for and conducted the research promoting the use of their products. The large corporations also “partner with” (translation: pay fees to) the American Dental Association (ADA) for their program that gives the firms’ products an official “Seal of Acceptance” to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions.
Clearly more research, from independent sources, needs to be done to determine if there is an oral hygiene value in using dental floss or it is a hoax perpetuated to sell products. Until it is really proven, however, floss is a good idea to get particles out from between teeth rather than letting it possibly lead to a bigger problem – even if the government no longer says so.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Associated Press: Medical Benefits Of Dental Floss Unproven
New York Times: Feeling Guilty About Not Flossing? Maybe There’s No Need
NPR: Does Flossing Help Or Not? The Evidence Is Mixed At Best
Photo by Walter Siegmund—Used courtesy Creative Commons license