It was Tuesday August 2nd and I was sitting at the kitchen table as Lester Holt worked his way through the NBC nightly news. I about fell out of my chair when Lester turned briefly to report on a study suggesting that people are wasting their time using dental floss. And NBC wasn’t alone. The report was mentioned on more than 150 news sites.
Sure enough, the very next day the questions started coming in. “Dr. Davis, did you hear that report on the news about how dental floss doesn’t work?”
So, as this flossing debate has been newly ignited I think it is important to learn how this crazy story surfaced in the first place.
It was the Associated Press who released the report citing “weak evidence” behind the importance of using dental floss. The roots of this report date back to 2012 when Associated Press reporter Jeff Donn took his son in for a routine orthodontist appointment. It was the orthodontist who talked that day with Donn about the lack of good solid evidence-based research backing the merits of dental floss. In response Donn contacted the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking what research they used in support of their promotion of daily dental flossing within their Dietary Guidelines. When pressed HHS informed Donn that they had not done any actual research in support of their flossing guidelines. Indeed, they had promoted flossing because of past “general public health recommendation.” In response to Donn’s questions HHS decided that use of dental floss really doesn’t have anything to do with “Dietary Guidelines” and simply dropped any mention of dental floss from their latest guidelines edition.
In his Associated Press report Donn states that he examined 25 studies on flossing and found most contained a “weak amount of evidence”, “were unreliable” and/or “contained a large bias” because the study was funded by flossing manufacturers. And you know what? Donn is right. There are painfully few good evidence-based studies on dental flossing.
The primary problem is that the way Donn’s report has been summarized by assorted media outlets it is easy for hearers to conclude that flossing has no benefit. Some might even assume that flossing could be harmful! In actual fact, the absence of solid research evidence is NOT proof that flossing is ineffective.
Scott Froum, DDS, Editorial Director of the e-newsletter Perio-Implant Advisory, reminds his readers that “a study was conducted on the use of parachutes to prevent bodily damage when descending from places of high altitude (i.e., jumping out of a plane). The study showed that because no randomized long-term clinical trials have been conducted on this subject, there was “a weak amount of evidence” to prove that parachutes prevented death and bodily trauma from gravitational challenges. This ridiculous conclusion was based on the fact that no good studies have been conducted on this particular subject. This same ridiculous conclusion can apply to the case for floss.”
The bottom line? Both parachutes and dental floss can promote general health and longevity!