Was flossing for dental health just debunked?

The dental industry and our government have universally recommended it. It’s been gospel, really, for preventing cavities and gum disease.

However, it turns out that flossing daily may not be as effective as it’s been made out to be.

In fact, it may not even be worth doing at all!

The newest dietary guidelines for Americans, issued by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, took out any mention of flossing.

In a letter to the Associated Press, the government acknowledged something interesting. That is, the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched like it should have been before it was recommended to the public en masse.

The news organization examined 25 different studies about the effectiveness of dental floss. It concluded that evidence for its benefits is "weak" … and "there’s little proof that flossing works."

In a statement issued this past week, the American Academy of Periodontology also acknowledged that most of the current evidence fell short because researchers had not been able to include enough participants. Nor were they able to "examine gum health over a significant amount of time."

This recent report is blowing up in the media this week. However, the legitimacy for flossing has been under investigation for quite some time.

A review of 12 randomized controlled trials published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2011 found only "very unreliable" evidence that flossing might reduce plaque after one and three months.

Researchers could not find any studies on the effectiveness of flossing combined with brushing for cavity prevention.

Now, two quick reactions immediately come to my mind.

First, almost nobody enjoys flossing and most of us have to dreadfully force ourselves to do it every night.

If flossing really isn’t effective, then a whole lot of people just wasted a lot of their time.

And not just time, but a ton of money as well.

Americans spent $448 million on floss in 2015, up 12% from $394 million in 2005.

So when it comes to recommending dental flossing going forward, there’s certainly going to be a bias and conflict of interest coming from the dental industry.

Although, there was some small evidence that flossing does reduce bloody gums and inflammation known as gingivitis.

That Cochrane review found that regular brushers and flossers had less gum bleeding than people who only brushed. Yet, the authors cautioned that the quality of the evidence was "very low."

When something like flossing, which is touted as dental gospel, suddenly comes under extreme questioning of legitimacy, it’s frustrating as a consumer. This kind of contradictory messaging makes you wonder who you can trust.

Please share your reaction to these new findings by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below.

That’s all for today.

Happy and healthy investing,

Brad Hoppmann

Your thoughts on “Was flossing for dental health just debunked?”

  1. While in the Army we were encouraged to floss. To my detriment I ignored the advice. Years later I suffered from gingivitis / gum disease requiring surgery. I was still foolishly lazy in not flossing resulting in more gum problems. So now i religiously floss daily and have restored the health of my gums. I also now use an electric tooth brush but it’s the flossing that has save me.

  2. Flossed faithfully for years. Was diagnosed with Sjogren’s and began to have trouble flossing due to absolute exhaustion (falling asleep before I could floss). Neither dentist nor dental hygienist noted any decline in condition of teeth/gums after this occurred. However, they DID notice an improvement along gumline after I bought a Waterpik water flosser. And that was even with the continued problem of sometimes falling asleep before I can water floss. And I’ve found both the Waterpik and interdental brushes are much more effective at getting out lodged food particles that otherwise stay firmly in place no matter how carefully I floss.

    In the U.K., they called into question the effectiveness of floss several years ago and instead recommend those little interdental brushes except for those people who can’t fit them between their teeth. For those folks, they recommend continued regular flossing because it mostly doesn’t hurt and it’s all they CAN do.

    Also, dental floss was NOT practically non-existent until the 1950s. Dentists were routinely recommending flossing as early as the 1870s and without exception from the 1900s on, evidence or not. Flossing wasn’t brought on by orthodontics, and orthodontics isn’t for “pretty” teeth, but to have a healthy bite (I have very pretty teeth alignment-wise upper and lower; but the upper and lower do not quite meet properly, making it diffuclt to eat certain foods). It seems to be mostly adults who go to orthodontists for cosmetic reasons.

  3. My dad was a dentist and flossing is more important than brushing! Just don’t use the floss in a wrong fashion which is like a bath towel at the gumline which causes a groove at the top of the tooth’s enamel. You get the floss between teeth, hug one side of a tooth and slide down. Not a back and forth motion like I mentioned. Hug the tooth at the top and pull straight down for the sides of each tooth. Now there is ACT which you swish a small capful of for 30 seconds to a minute _after_ brushing and spit out. It strengthens the tooth between gumline and root. Great. A fluoride based event which makes for strong teeth, resists cavaties. Don’t eat after for about an hour. Avoid ingesting fluoride. At night brush with “Prevident” don’t rinse (don’t swallow of course) before bedtime. No costly crowns or fillings. The idea of not flossing is preposterous. Gross, you can see the vugum between teeth of people who don’t. THe very idea!

  4. I HATE FLOSSING! BUT, I hate decaying food stuck between my teeth even more. On my last dental visit I was given a wallet sized credit card contaning floss. It’s called FLOSSCARD. I use it after every meal. GREAT!

  5. Before the 1950’s, dental floss was practically non-existent. Then began the orthodontist uprising. Every parent was made to feel their children must grow up with that perfect “movie star” smile. So instead of braces merely straightening teeth in need of correction, they also butted them up together tightly. Ergo, flossing was born. People are meant to have some degree of natural spacing between teeth, so food particles can be easily removed by flushing, not flossing.

  6. Dental care has now become very expensive. One root canal takes one hour and the cost in this area is $1000.00. I perceive in order to bill Medicaid and insurance dentists are required to charge their Cash patients the same as they bill them and if procedures are required on such, they have to also do on the CASH patient.

  7. I never flossed consistently because it was difficult and hurt both gums and fingers. Whether I flossed or not, decay and cavities were annual occurrences. I now have only 5-6 natural teeth, all of the rest are caps or crowns on natural roots and a few implant posts.At today’s dental prices, I’ve spent better than $10K in my mouth. More recently, gingivitis has been the primary problem as most problems occurred between the teeth, under the edges of crowns, and below the gum line.

    I switched to electric rotating head brushes followed by sonic type brushes with documented improvement, however, decay between the teeth and under gum lines continued with constant bleeding. As a final effort to minimize the annual inconvenience and cash outlay, I bought a Waterpick jet flosser and have had a remarkable reduction in the former problems. Most notably, the quantity of food particles dislodged and washed into the sink, even after a thorough brushing and rinsing, is amazing. I have even rinsed into a coffee filter to catch and display the particles simply for my own scrutiny, examination and amazement. In the past 30 months, I have not had a single cavity, decay problem, or bleeding gums. Every exam has been a breeze for both the periodontist and myself.

    I don’t hold much reliance or belief in most government studies because for every one that identifies and raising a problem, another study is released to the contrary. With my own proven and successful results, I don’t need any government study to further waste my time and efforts. What I now have and use is working for me better than any other system, product or study recommendations.

  8. Agree with both comments above. Flossing is great for gum health and reducing the depth of crevices next to your teeth that the Hygienist is happy to measure each visit. Also, if your going to disparage flossing; how about coming out against fluoride! Hygienist now want to gob it all over your teeth after cleaning them. What other poison/drug is given in unlimited amounts to people of all ages via the public water systems. Funny how Russia, China and Europe and many others ban it, but Good ole USA via bribes to everyone poisons all. Time to kill it off. It’s so poisonous that EPA bans it from all lakes, ponds and waterways. Towns that decide to stop using it, use it all up in the drinking water because its such a hazardous waste that getting rid of it is cost prohibitive! Yikes, you want to drink that?

  9. Full disclosure: I’ve been a Dental Hygienist in California for 39 years and have seen much antidotal evidence that flossing regularly does reverse inflammation and gum disease in patients that show susceptibility to gum disease. As with any other health issue there is a spectrum in the population. Some people have greater resistance to gum disease and others have more susceptibility to it. Like heart disease, there are genetic and other factors that vary individual risk. At the same time, flossing is a kind of first line dental insurance to reduce one’s risk of having dental problems. “almost nobody enjoys flossing and most of us have to dreadfully force ourselves to do it every night.” is a blanket and false statement, at least in California. I’m sorry you find it so unpleasant. Most of my patients appreciate the value of flossing along with brushing in their life; in addition to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly helps them live a more active, longer life. Perhaps this “controversy” will inspire more large sample, long term studies on the effectiveness of flossing and brushing to reduce risk of dental disease. As a clinician I hope so. I would like to point to studies that support personal daily dental hygiene so I don’t have to refer as many patients for gum surgery or fillings. Thank you and the dentist in New Jersey for challenging this long-held dental recommendation. In the meantime, I will continue flossing and brushing, knowing that at best,I am reducing my risk of dental problems, and worst I am doing something that may not make a difference. I have tried not flossing for a week and it does make a difference in my mouth. We all ultimately make our own decisions about our own personal health. As far as ” bias and conflict of interest coming from the dental industry”, wouldn’t it serve the “dental industry ” more to discourage flossing, thereby increasing our production of fillings and gum surgeries? I say no, because whatever the ultimate causes of caries and gum disease, I am committed to serving my patients best dental health, not just looking to make more money or enhancing my ROI. I think that separates me from you. Bless you and may your teeth and gums live long and prosper. Namaste, Peter

  10. Flossing has little to do with plaque. Flossing is about breaking up colonies of bacteria that assemble between your teeth.

  11. This is typical of how our country works-doesn’t work. Dentists have the opportunity to observe the benefits or lack thereof of flossing. Dentists make money by treating the consequences of dental diseases such as tooth decay and “gum” disease. They take time to discuss and teach flossing because after observing thousands of patients over many years they believe it works. This is of course anecdotal evidence and would be absolutely insufficient for irreversible procedures or where their is potential for a conflict of interest. However, in this case the dentist stands to gain nothing by recommending the use of dental floss, and actually stands to lose money by the time spent educating the patient and by reduced revenue by preventing rather than treating disease. Wouldnt it be wonderful if all professionals were this altruistic. Additionally, the cost of dental floss is perhaps a dollar fifty for a 6 month supply of dental floss. So let’s all line up to ignore our dentists recommendation until our government spends millions, probably hundreds of millions, on studies that 15 years from now will still be debatable so we can save 90 seconds a day of our time and maybe 3 dollars a year in supplies. Let’s stop being idiots with excessive studies and trust those highly trained doctors who are obviously acting in their patients best interest.

  12. OMG. Next, you’re going to tell us that the government dumping fluoride in our water doesn’t have any benefits either. How are the factories supposed to get rid of their toxic waste if they can’t dump it in our drinking water and tell us its good for us?

  13. Flossing is still effective for getting food stuck between teeth
    I floss after eating dinner since certain meats / vegetables get stuck between teeth
    leaving the food stuck between teeth can cause gum irritation and maybe cause
    cavities between teeth. However flossing is at best partially effective in getting rid of plac
    which is at the gum line , to mainly reduce plac one needs to use a pic along the gum line
    or a waterpic

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