Daily dental flossing has been recommended by dentists and even the federal government for decades based on the idea that it prevented cavities and insured healthy gums — but the benefits might be overstated.
Now, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services have dropped the recommendation from their most recent dietary guidelines, and the Associated Press reported that the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched officially for efficacy before being touted as one of the most important health habits ever discovered.
The New York Times' Catherine Saint Louis writes that the American Academy of Periodontology stated that most evidence currently recognized was not accurate because scientists had not been able to include a proper number of subjects or "examine gum health over a significant amount of time."
Although experts have been aware for some time that flossing had not been proven to reduce cavities or periodontal disease, guilt-ridden Americans have struggled to adhere to a flossing regimen but fell abysmally short.
"It is very surprising that you have two habits, flossing and toothbrushing without fluoride, which are widely believed to prevent cavities and tooth loss, and yet we don't have the randomized clinical trials to show they are effective," said Dr. Philippe Hujoel, a professor of oral health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Dr. Edmond R. Hewlett, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association and a professor of restorative dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, said:
"We're confident that disturbing the bacteria in plaque with brushing and flossing is, indeed, beneficial."
It is true that fluoride prevents dental decay, but saying that flossing does the same is simply a hunch. There is a bit of evidence that shows flossing does reduce gingivitis, or bloody and inflamed gums, but the accuracy of the evidence was "very low."
WFMY-TV reports that the dental floss industry has struggled with providing credible evidence to prove that flossing reduces plaque or gingivitis. The dental floss manufacturers themselves have paid for most of the studies and have even designed and conducted the research.
Dr. Damien Walmsley, a scientific adviser to the British Dental Association, says it is important for people to take care of the basics when it comes to their teeth. But, he adds, flossing is not part of the basics.
Ironically, floss can sometimes cause injury. If a person is careless while flossing, gums, teeth, and dental work can be damaged. Although it is unknown how frequently it occurs, flossing can stir up dangerous bacteria that can travel to the bloodstream and cause grave infections, particularly in those with immune deficiencies.
National Institutes of Health Dr. Tim Iafolla still believes that flossing should be done.
"It's low risk, low cost," he said. "We know there's a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it."
Consumers worldwide have spent roughly $2 billion on dental floss to protect themselves from cavities, gum disease, plaque buildup, and halitosis, says Lynnette Southwood, reporting for the Inquisitr.
US law requires that dietary guidelines be updated every five years and must be supported by scientific evidence, but in 37 years this has not been done.
Dentist Levi Spear Parmly invented floss in the early 1900s, and the use of it has been proclaimed to be beneficial by the American Dental Association since 1908. Floss manufacturers seek ADA approval by way of its Seal of Approval program, which is a stamp of approval that is purchased. Consumers trust that a product approved by the ADA is beneficial.