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Turns Out Flossing May Be Totally Useless

Photograph by Twenty20

The struggle is real. Whether you're trying to remember to floss your own teeth every day or wrestling little ones to floss their teeth, it's a pain in the butt. But the results of an investigation led by the Associated Press reveals something your dentist doesn't want you to read: Flossing has no real medical benefits.

But, wait, has everything our dentists have been telling us been a lie? Was all of the non-flossing guilt totally unwarranted? According to the AP, the federal government has been recommending flossing since 1979 when it was published in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which comes out every five years. By law, those guidelines must be grounded in scientific evidence.

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So the AP decided to ask the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, who issues the guidelines, for their scientific evidence under the Freedom of Information Act. They never heard back.

Interestingly enough, when the latest guidelines were released earlier this year, the AP noticed that flossing was no longer mentioned, and, bombshell alert: "In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required."

Well, obviously, this piqued the AP's curiosity and they launched into what they describe as "the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade." They delved into 25 studies that compared the results between using just a toothbrush, and using a toothbrush and flossing. And what did they discover?

"The evidence for flossing is 'weak, very unreliable,' of 'very low' quality and carries 'a moderate to large potential for bias.'"

In light of the investigation, the American Academy of Periodontology released a statement admitting that most of the research fell short and that researchers hadn't had enough patient participants to “examine gum health over a significant amount of time.” However, they still encourage people to keep on flossing.

The president of the group, Wayne Aldredge, tells the AP, "It's like building a house and not painting two sides of it. Ultimately, those two sides are going to rot away quicker."

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The American Dental Association maintains that flossing helps remove plaque and "recommends brushing for two minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner and regular dental visits advised by your dentist."

When pressed by the AP for why it makes these recommendations, ADA spokesperson Matthew J. Messina doesn't deny that the evidence is weak but blames it on the patients' poor flossing skills instead—which may indeed be the case. Apparently, most people do an up-and-down sawing motion when they should be "hugging" the tooth instead.

According to Dr. Aldredge, people who decide to quit flossing after reading the latest findings are simply "rolling the dice" as periodontal disease sometimes doesn't appear for up to 20 years, at which point it would be too late to prevent it.

So, are you tossing that floss or not?

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