It wasn’t the kind of reporting to force a U.S. president to resign. Still, the Associated Press did cause some red faces among dental and diet experts by exposing a lack of research rigor and a bit of publication sleight-of-hand. This all turned on debunking a bit of oral health dogma: Do we really need to floss our teeth every day?
The AP reviewed two dozen research studies and found “weak, very unreliable,” and “very low” quality data to support the staunch position propounded by federal agencies, as well as two leading dental associations, that flossing is a must, and that it produces superior health outcomes versus simple daily tooth brushing.
Uncle Sam has flogged flossing for decades, including recommending it in the evidence-based national Dietary Guidelines put out every five years. This year that advice mysteriously disappeared in the latest guidelines, the news service found.
The teeth guys say the AP has blown this item out of proportion. They say the feds mentioned tooth brushing and flossing in the guidelines as part of a broader discussion about the harms of excessive sugar consumption and that it was a bit of a mismatch all along to include the information.
The AP story notes that flossing has become a $2 billion or so industry, in which product makers have financially supported “research” and the seal of approval from the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology have proved valuable.
The dentists have fired back at the AP story, insisting that flossing causes little harm and, while its benefits aren’t as rigorously proven as might be optimal, patients should persist in protecting themselves from gum, tooth, and mouth woes by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily.
Various stories about flossing all make the point that part of the reason it may not be most effective is that most of us are terrible at it. Despite the guilt-inducing nagging from dentists and periodontists, most of us don’t do it regularly or often enough; we saw at our gums and teeth but don’t get low and deep into the pockets where infectious materials need to be flossed out. That nasty gunk can infiltrate into the bloodstream and cause cardio concerns, the AP says, citing medical experts.
So what to do? The New York Times offers some tongue-in-cheek ideas about what to do with that dental floss, rather than just chucking it in the trash (using it to cut cake, remove stuck wedding rings etc).