Feeling guilty about not flossing? There’s no need
For decades, the federal government, not to mention your local dentist, has insisted that daily flossing is necessary to prevent cavities and gums so diseased your teeth fall out.
Turns out, flossing may be overrated.
The latest dietary guidelines for Americans, issued by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, quietly dropped any mention of flossing without notice. This week, The Associated Press reported that officials had never researched the effectiveness of regular flossing, as required, before cajoling Americans to do it.
The admission has caused a stir among guilt-ridden citizens who strive to floss daily but fall short of that lofty goal. But it’s been something of an open secret among experts that flossing hasn’t been shown to prevent cavities or periodontal disease.
A review of 12 randomised controlled trials published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2011 found only “very unreliable” evidence that flossing might reduce plaque after one and three months. Researchers could locate no studies on the effectiveness of flossing combined with teeth brushing for cavity prevention.
“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 randomised clinical trials to show they are effective,” said Dr Phillippe Hujoel, a professor of oral health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The American Dental Association’s website says, “Flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.” A spokesman for group, Dr Edmond Hewlett, a professor of restorative dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, said last year, “We’re confident that disturbing the bacteria in plaque with brushing and flossing is, indeed, beneficial.”
Actually, that’s only half proven. Brushing with fluoride does prevent dental decay. That flossing has the same benefit is a hunch that has never been proven.
If it’s any consolation, there is some evidence that flossing does reduce bloody gums and gum inflammation known as gingivitis. But that’s a long way from severe periodontal disease so bad that teeth loosen and fall out.
New York Times
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