If you’ve been to the dentist at least once in your life, you have probably heard the recommendation to “floss daily.” But have you ever wondered if flossing was actually backed by science, or merely the momentum of tradition? Turns out, it seems to be the latter.
What the Studies Say
According to federal law, in order for the government to suggest a given practice as a health guideline, there needs to be sufficient scientific evidence backing it up. Last year, the Associated Press asked the federal government (specifically the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture), to provide evidence that flossing is actually effective in the fight against gum disease. They also followed up with a written request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The federal departments gave no such evidence. And when they published the dietary guidelines for this year (2016), flossing had been removed – without any notice or attention.
Over the years, there have been a few studies and trials performed in an attempt to prove the efficacy of flossing, but across the board, the results have been weak and unimpressive. In a 2015 review of these studies, one reviewer stated, “The majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal.” Another 2015 review cites “inconsistent/weak evidence” for flossing and a “lack of efficacy.”
So What Should You Do?
Just because the research is very weak, flossing may still provide some benefits. But it’s difficult to know for sure. So if you have a regular flossing routine, and you feel like it’s making a difference for your mouth, feel free to keep it up!
If you don’t floss regularly (and you’ve been feeling guilty about it), you can give yourself a break and stop feeling the daunting pressure to “floss after every meal.”
Either way, as long as you are using a toothpaste and mouthwash that are clinically proven to fight plaque and strengthen the gums, then you can trust you are taking the best steps to care for your mouth.
Do you know an obsessive flosser? Send them this article and see what they think!