There’s potentially good news for all those who avoid flossing until they’re just a few days away from their dental check-up: an Associated Press (AP) report says there’s no strong scientific evidence that flossing is an effective oral hygiene practice.
The AP examined 25 studies that looked at the importance and efficacy of flossing and brushing versus just brushing. The reporters found that evidence from these studies was weak and carried “a moderate to large potential for bias.” Issues with studies included uncontrolled variation in participants’ flossing methods, short testing periods, and outdated testing methods.
In the wake of the AP’s meta-analysis, the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services released new dietary guidelines that exclude flossing from their recommended oral hygiene practices. The federal government has also acknowledged that the importance of flossing has not been fully researched.
Should You Keep Flossing?
After hearing that there’s no scientific evidence of the benefits of flossing, you might be tempted to toss any waxy dental tape in your home. However, it’s important to keep in mind that while there may not be evidence that flossing does work, there’s also no evidence that it’s ineffective.
More research is needed, but unfortunately, it’s hard to conduct an accurate study into the efficacy or benefits of flossing. Real-world studies are challenging in part because there would need to be a “control” group of people who didn’t floss for the duration of the study period. Because periodontal disease is slow to develop, a study would likely need to span several years. Asking participants to avoid a potentially beneficial oral hygiene practice for an extended period is unethical and also difficult to control. For example, participants might adopt other practices—such as brushing for longer or using a water pick—to make up for not flossing their teeth, which would impact the study’s results.
The ADA still says flossing is essential to a healthy routine.
We may not know for certain that flossing delivers any significant benefits, but many dentists insist that their patients who regularly floss have healthier gums than those who do not, because flossing teeth regularly prevents bacterial build-up. The American Dental Association says that floss and other interdental cleaners “help remove debris between teeth that can contribute to plaque buildup” and that flossing removes bacteria and debris from areas of the mouth that a toothbrush simply can’t reach.
For now, it’s a good idea to keep up with your flossing. It’s a low-cost, low-risk activity that could potentially deliver long-term dental benefits.