Don't lie, everybody exaggerates how often they floss when they go to the dentist. However, maybe there’s no need to feel wracked with guilt the next time you skip a flossing session – there’s surprisingly little scientific evidence that flossing is good for your dental health.
Last year, the Associated Press (AP) sent Freedom of Information requests to the US departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture asking for their evidence that flossing works. By law, these guidelines must be backed by scientific evidence.
They received a letter back from the authority that said they had never actually fully researched the benefits of flossing. This year's dietary guidelines from the federal government have been issued and it appears they have, without any notification or explanation, removed their recommendation that you should floss your teeth.
The concept behind flossing is that it helps remove plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, from in-between the teeth. This bacteria can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Most of this plaque is dealt with by brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste. There are areas, such as between your teeth, that brushing cannot reach. However, the extent to which flossing helps with this process of removing plaque has not been appropriately researched.
Two of the leading dental authorities in the US – the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Periodontology – appear to base their flossing recommendations on outdated studies that tested a few very small sample groups for a short duration. One study tested just 25 participants after a single use of floss. Other research tended to focus only on milder “warning signs” such as bleeding, and did not look into gum disease or cavities.