I know that health sciences are always being updated and yadda yadda, but what the hell?

The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.”

“The majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal,” said one review conducted last year. Another 2015 review cites “inconsistent/weak evidence” for flossing and a “lack of efficacy.”

One study review in 2011 did credit floss with a slight reduction in gum inflammation — which can sometimes develop over time into full-fledged gum disease. However, the reviewers ranked the evidence as “very unreliable.” A commentary in a dental magazine stated that any benefit would be so minute it might not be noticed by users.

The benefits of flossing seem so transparent to me that I find it difficult to believe that there’s no science to back it up. I mean, when I floss and white gunk comes out, is it just as well that it stay resting there in my gums? That doesn’t seem right, especially when it can sometimes cause inflammation.

There’s also the blood thing. You floss irregularly, you bleed. Floss regularly, you don’t. Blood and no blood seems like one of those cases where one of those things is better than the other.

There is this, however:

Aldredge also said many people use floss incorrectly, moving it in a sawing motion instead of up and down the sides of the teeth. Pressed about the origins of his organization’s endorsement of flossing, he said it may simply have “taken the ADA’s lead.”

Who doesn’t floss up and down the teeth? That’s where you get the white stuff.

So if that’s the issue, I’m no longer confused about the evidence and more confused about a nation of people who don’t know how to floss regularly.

Whatever, I’m going to keep flossing because what can it hurt?

Floss can occasionally cause harm. Careless flossing can damage gums, teeth and dental work. Though frequency is unclear, floss can dislodge bad bacteria that invade the bloodstream and cause dangerous infections, especially in people with weak immunity, according to the medical literature.

Are you freaking kidding me?

They’re still telling us to floss, though. Though not in this article, they say that even if it doesn’t help in the aggregate it can be very helpful to individuals or something. That’s cool. I dig that. Except when vapers explain how ecigarettes helped us quit, we’re told by the same community that we’re just anecdotes.

Category: Hospital

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

10 Responses to I Don’t Get It

  1. fillyjonk says:

    I’ve decided to compromise and only floss every other day.

    (Partly joking. But these kinds of stories make me nuts)

  2. Oscar Gordon says:


  3. Jaybird says:

    The main reason to have these studies is to see if something that everybody knows and that has always been downright self-evident is, in fact, true.

    That said, if you’re trying to disprove something that everybody knows and that has always been downright self-evident, it’s important to actually use the scientific method rather than some flimsy slipshod poll and report the findings as if there were a p value attached to it.

  4. Brandon Berg says:

    Another article I read about this said that they were recommending interdental brushes instead. Those are those things that look like little pipe cleaners.

  5. Michael Drew says:

    I’m completely with you.

    Also, plaque removal? My impression was that that’s one thing brushing is for (and brushing is really just a holding action for between professional cleanings/scrapings – you can’t really prevent plaque buildup altogether on your own, or do much at all to remove it yourself once it’s built up.

    But isn’t brushing also clearly partly for removing food particles from your teeth? Is there not good evidence that brushing helps with this? Is there not good evidence that removing food particles from between your teeth is beneficial in fighting gum disease and tooth decay (if not plaque buildup as well??). I guess there might not be, to put the fine point on that. I don’t freaking know.

    The one thing I do know is that in my own mouth, flossing before brushing at night removes a lot more food particles from between my teeth and gums than just brushing does. Indeed, brushing after eating (i.e. any time other than brushing after sleeping before which sleep I had brushed/flossed and then not eaten again before sleeping) can sometimes, it seems like, force food particles stuck between my teeth in more tightly, or down toward my gums. Whereas when I floss at that time, I can feel and see food particles being removed from between my teeth. (But then I believe I know how to floss correctly.)

    Has the science not been done to see whether it maters at all to my dental health (not just my plaque situation) whether those food particles are removed before I sleep (or ever) – whether by brush or floss? Pardon me if I think that’s really lame if it hasn’t, first of all. Also pardon me if the answer is that it has been done for brushing but not flossing, if I feel really comfortable saying that (correct) flossing provides additional benefit over brushing in terms of removing food particles from between teeth, and is thus beneficial per the research on the benefits of such removal by means of brushing. Because it’s ust that clear to me what is actually going on inside my mouth.

    tl;dr: n of 1 his one, don’t really care. Flossing clearly removes a lot of food from my teeth & gums, and if science hasn’t established that that’s beneficial across the population, then that really would be news.

  6. For what it’s worth (not much), I have trouble flossing properly. I just don’t do it right. I’ve been told repeatedly by my hygienist that I need to do the up down thing and not the back and forth thing, but I just can’t or won’t do it right.

    But in keeping with Michael Drew’s tl;dr, they way I do it probably doesn’t hurt, and maybe it helps on some margin, so I’ll keep doing it.

    Maybe it’s like taking multivitamins. They probably don’t help, but they’re cheap enough that I’ll still take one a day ™ on the chance that they help a little bit.

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