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The Truth About Those Flossing Headlines: Dentists vs Reporters

Recent headlines have popped up in the news making it sound like you don't have to floss anymore. You may have felt shocked, confused, relieved or maybe even ecstatic after years of being guilted into flossing. But before you toss your floss and the confetti to celebrate, know what you're actually throwing away. As your dental health providers, we want to make sure you're not misled by these headlines.

How Did This Become News?
In short, the Associated Press (AP) noticed a US government agency dropped flossing from its dietary report last year, and took it to imply that flossing is no longer recommended.  They looked closer at past research, and according to the AP, there have been no reliable scientific studies devoted to the efficacy of flossing. The evidence they found was slim, because the few studies that were done used outdated methods or were too short to make any real conclusions. When they pressed the government to provide scientific evidence, they were not able to provide any.

Does that Mean Flossing Doesn't Work?
Far from it. A lack of good scientific research doesn't prove something is ineffective. Dr. Matthew Mesina from the ADA described the hole in this logic best when she said: "Nobody's done a study to say that using a parachute jumping out of an airplane is safer than not using a parachute. I'm still going to use a parachute, because we just know that that's going to work." Flossing is not a priority for research funding simply because it's been commonly understood to work.

Why Is There No Scientific Evidence to Support Flossing?
Cost, time and common sense. It is estimated that it would cost the government tens of millions of dollars for a decades-long study of flossing. That is money that would be better spent on other pressing health concerns facing our nation. Aside from financial reasons,  there are also ethical and practical issues to consider. Is it morally sound to prevent test subject from flossing at the very high and known risk of developing gum disease and tooth loss? How do we make sure those assigned to floss do so every day in their homes for years on end? If we already know it works, why spend all these resources?

But What's the Worst That Could Happen?
Losing your teeth for one. As dental health professionals, we already know firsthand what happens when you don't floss.  Although we may politely nod when you claim you floss your teeth every day, your mouth betrays you. Brushing removes plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, from only 60% of the surfaces of your teeth. Flossing cleans the rest - the spaces in between and below the gum line. We can immediately see significant stains and tartar buildup as well redness from the inflammation of gums. Overtime this puts you at high risk of developing gum disease. Symptoms include gum bleeding, bad breath, gum recession and eventually tooth loss.

Is It Really Worth It?
Absolutely. Don't let bad journalism put your smile in danger. Flossing is a low-cost and low-risk way to keep your teeth and gums healthy. The ADA, Surgeon General and CDC reiterated that they continue to recommend it. Rest assured that the few minutes you spend every day to floss will help keep your breath fresh, gums healthy and teeth intact  - and that's worth holding on to.

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