It’s one of the most universal recommendations in all of public health: Floss daily to prevent gum disease and cavities.
Except there’s little proof that flossing works.
Still, the federal government, dental organizations and manufacturers of floss have pushed the practice for decades. Dentists provide samples to their patients; the American Dental Association insists on its website that, “Flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.”
The federal government has recommended flossing since 1979, first in a surgeon general’s report and later in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued every five years. The guidelines must be based on scientific evidence, under the law.
Last year, the Associated Press 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.
When the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed, without notice. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required.
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.”
First, the government was completely wrong about the food pyramid, filling us with almost the opposite of what we really need. So many things I could have been enjoying with slightly less guilt.
Now I have to tally how much money I’ve wasted on dental floss over the years. Sort of makes me glad that I wasn’t too diligent about it when I was younger.
I think the government has probably been right about seat belts but I am going to draw my own conclusions on coffee, red meat, beer, all of which I have now officially decided are part of a healthy breakfast.
All kidding aside…wait, I don’t think I was kidding about that.