Benefits of Flossing

Debunking the Great Floss Debate

Floss daily. That is, perhaps, the most universal advice in the dental world. And given that Americans tend to prefer cleaning toilets than cleaning between their teeth, it also seems to be the most painstaking part of maintaining good oral hygiene. So when the Associated Press recently published “Medical Benefits of Dental Floss Unproven,” the Internet jumped into a debate over the benefits of flossing.

Unfortunately for you anti-flossers, the AP is more interested in your clicks than your health. Digging into the meat of the article, you’ll find its headline misleading.

Adam Davidson and Rachel Ward make sense of the mystery in a recent episode of their podcast, Surprisingly Awesome. As they explain, the federal government has recommended flossing in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans since 1979. Those recommendations are required by law to be backed by long-term, controlled research trials. And as it turns out, there have been few scientific studies around flossing, leaving both the benefits and the negative effects “unproven.”

Here’s where the AP comes in. They requested the data that supported flossing and received nothing in return. Following the request, flossing miraculously disappeared from the next edition of the dietary guidelines, and the AP received a letter confessing that no scientific evidence currently exists to support flossing.

So, despite the viral Internet’s widespread misinterpretation that flossing lacks benefits, the article simply reveals a lack of rigorous scientific research.

We don’t need formal studies to prove the benefits of flossing. Without it, you only clean 60% of your teeth and miss plenty of the plaque in your mouth. It’s low-risk, low-cost and has no major disadvantages. And our friends at UNC School of dentistry agree:

A recent systematic review on hand washing concluded, ‘evidence of the effect of hand hygiene interventions on infection incidence in educational settings is mostly equivocal.’

That doesn’t mean we stop washing our hands.

So my take is that for good hygiene measures in general flossing is a good practice to have for a number of reasons (controlling breath odor if nothing else) despite a lack of evidence from clinical trials

Dr. Tim Wright

There is empirical evidence for flossing that people can often see for themselves by having less blood from inflamed gums show up on their toothbrush. Popcorn is nature’s way of reminding people to floss.

Unfortunately, people do not always do an accurate job of self-reporting how often and how thoroughly they floss. Thus, conducting a rigorous clinical trial to obtain the needed evidence is difficult.

Dr. Jane Weintraub

After more than 40 years of practicing dentistry, we say it with more confidence than ever: floss daily.