We all know headlines can be misleading, but sometimes they can be flat-out wrong. Take for example, this one from last year that reads, “Flossing is a Complete Waste of Time.” Wait, what?
You’ve probably spent your life listening to parents, teachers, and, of course, dentists, lecture about the benefits of flossing. So to come across a headline that debunks all of that in one fell swoop may seem suspicious; it should!
According to the article, which recaps an Associated Press investigation into the documented benefits of flossing, there’s little “proof” that it actually works. The AP says that according to 25 studies, the evidence for flossing is weak and fails to demonstrate a big benefit.
But leading professional groups like the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) aren’t buying it, and neither are we. Research doesn’t always tell the full picture, and in the case of flossing, current studies aren’t sufficient to demonstrate the real, tangible benefits patients and dentists see from the healthy hygiene habit.
“Flossing allows for the removal of plaque bacteria and debris from areas in the mouth that brushing alone cannot reach,” the AAP said in a statement. “Because the development of periodontal disease is slow in nature and because a variety of factors can impact its progression, studies that examine the efficacy of daily flossing are best conducted over a number of years and among a large population. Much of the current evidence does not utilize a large sample size or examine gum health over a significant amount of time. Additionally, many of the existing studies do not measure true markers of periodontal health such as inflammation or clinical attachment loss.”
Other expert groups, like the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, are acknowledging that floss may not be right for everyone, but finding the right tool – whether that’s floss or another “interdental” cleaning device like an oral irrigator – can undeniably help remove food debris, bacteria, and other substances that a toothbrush just can’t access.
The truth is, even in the absence of hard evidence documenting the benefits of flossing, it’s a practice that you shouldn’t dismiss lightly. As Dr. Tim Iafolla, a dentist and public health analyst at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research told Live Science, flossing is a “low-risk and low-cost procedure, and because clinical studies show that it’s effective when it’s done well, we just don’t have much hesitation to say go ahead and do it. It’s not going to hurt.”
So in our opinion, flossing – whether that’s with an irrigator, small brush, dental stick, or good old fashioned string floss – is still a must. The ADA continues to recommend brushing twice a day with a fluorinated toothpaste and using some sort of interdental device once a day. And of course, make sure to see your dentist regularly.