We've all been told for decades that we need to brush our teeth after meals, swish some mouthwash, and floss to protect every nook and cranny from cavities. Though it's simple enough and doesn't take that much time, there's something inherently awful about flossing that makes us not want to do it and lie to our dentists and say we do.
Newly updated guidelines from the federal government may take away the need to feel bad about deceiving your dentist, as flossing is no longer recommended.
The reason why is pretty interesting: there was never any evidence it significantly improves oral health.
This bombshell discovery was made when the folks at Associated Press went on a quest in 2015 for the truth behind the recommendation. Because federal guidelines pertaining to health need to be based on evidence, AP wanted to know exactly how that decision had been made.
Ultimately, it was revealed that there isn't strong evidence to support the claim that flossing reduces plaque and decreases the risk of gum disease; as a result, flossing was no longer listed as a recommended guideline when updates were made this year.
(Sidebar: wouldn't it be great if all government offices were forced to make decisions based on scientific evidence? What a world it would be.)
There have been studies that concluded there are benefits to flossing, but many have been criticized for having flawed methodologies or small sample sizes, which makes it hard to take the results at face value.
What's needed is a solid long-term study that examines the effects of flossing while also accounting for other factors that impact oral health including diet, smoking, diabetes, and certain medications. They also need to ensure that people flossing are using the proper techniques and being thorough without going overboard. Flossing too gingerly may not be effective, but doing it too aggressively can actually be harmful to the gums.
So now that flossing is no longer recommended, does this mean we should take it out of our daily routine and only reserve it for when there's a popcorn kernel painfully stuck in our teeth? Maybe not.
Even if it isn't federally recommended anymore, dentists may still encourage their patients to keep at it, particularly those who are more prone to cavities between teeth or are at an increased risk for gum disease.
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