According to Wochit News, the U.S. government has recommended flossing since the late 70s–both in the Dietary Guidelines and the surgeon general’s report. But to be in these recommendations, the practice needs to be backed up by medical evidence. So, the Associated Press asked for it, and they got over 20 studies that surprised most people: there was little evidence that flossing helped!

But while Wochit News just gives an overview of this recent development, CBS News goes into a little more detail on how people are taking different sides of the issue:

A Big Problem with Flossing

When the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed, without notice. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required.

 

The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.” Read the full story . . .

As you’ve probably gathered, the main opponents of this development are dentists and hygienists. But if you do a little research, these dental professionals aren’t hanging on to flossing because they’re stuck in their ways, but because they’ve seen how it helps patients. For instance, Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a dentist and professor at UCLA, says that he’s seen clearly how flossing helps to reduce inflammation. On the same site, Dr. Pruett talks about how our teeth have multiple surfaces and how flossing is one of the only ways to remove biofilm between teeth.

Clearly, there is some sort of discrepancy between what these dentists are seeing and what the studies are telling us. And according to an article at News in Health, there may some research challenges that can hinder study results:

Don’t Toss the Floss! The Benefits of Daily Cleaning Between Teeth

If dentists—and maybe even your personal experience—suggest that regular flossing keeps your mouth healthy, then why the news reports? It’s because long-term, large-scale, carefully controlled studies of flossing have been somewhat limited.

 

Researchers have found modest benefits from flossing in small clinical studies. For instance, an analysis of 12 well-controlled studies found that flossing plus toothbrushing reduced mild gum disease, or gingivitis, significantly better than toothbrushing alone. These same studies reported that flossing plus brushing might reduce plaque after 1 or 3 months better than just brushing.

 

Another research challenge is that large, real-world studies of flossing must rely on people accurately reporting their dental cleaning habits. And people tend to report what they think is the “right” answer when it comes to their health behaviors—whether flossing, exercising, smoking, or eating. That’s why well-controlled studies (where researchers closely monitor flossing or perform the flossing) tend to show that flossing is effective. But real-world studies result in weaker evidence.

 

“The fact that there hasn’t been a huge population-based study of flossing doesn’t mean that flossing’s not effective,” Iafolla says. “It simply suggests that large studies are difficult and expensive to conduct when you’re monitoring health behaviors of any kind.” While the scientific evidence for flossing benefits may be somewhat lacking, there’s little evidence for any harm or side effects from flossing, and it’s low cost. So why not consider making it part of your daily routine? Read full blog post here . . .

As you can see, even controlled studies can have their issues. And since the News in Health article points out that there have been positive results in clinical studies, it may be best for patients to stick to flossing during their teeth cleanings. Because flossing is incredibly easy to do and non-invasive, patients really only risk reaping possible benefits. So the jury’s still out on flossing; there clearly needs to be more long-term studies conducted before this habit is abolished.

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