If you've spent any time at a dentist's office (and we hope you have), chances are, you've probably received a lecture or two on why flossing is the key to dental hygiene. A new report, however, suggests that flossing might not be all that beneficial for you after all. An Associated Press investigation (either the silliest or the most important journalistic project of our time, depending on your personal feelings about flossing) has revealed that there's apparently little evidence that flossing actually works to prevent cavities and gum disease.
Last year, the AP asked the federal government for the research supporting flossing, even going so far as to submit written requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Then, when the government released the latest Dietary Guidelines For Americans this year, the recommendation to floss was suspiciously absent. Then, the government admitted "in a letter to the AP" that there isn't much evidence to support flossing, so it had to be taken out.
This prompted the AP to launch an investigation examining 25 studies on the benefits of flossing from the past decade. The findings? The proof that flossing actually works is "weak, very unreliable," of "very low" quality, and carries "a moderate to large potential for bias." While the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Peridontology recommend flossing to prevent early gum disease and cavities, both organizations cited research that was outdated, or that tested too few people, the AP reports. The studies cited by both organizations mostly looked at short-term warning signs like gum bleeding, but didn't factor in long-term issues like gum disease or cavities. So does that mean you're off the hook for your daily floss? Well, not quite. There's not a lot of evidence that flossing does all it's been purported to, but that doesn't mean it's definitely not beneficial, so your dentist will probably still recommend it. Tim Iafolla, a dentist for the National Institutes of Health, said that although by scientific standards, flossing doesn't need to be in the dietary guidelines, you should still try to floss. "It's low risk, low cost," he told AP. "We know there's a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it."