The benefits of brushing your teeth are quite obvious and the practice is essential to healthy teeth and gums. A new study by the Associate Press, however, is questioning the merits of flossing and suggesting that there is little evidence that the practice is necessary or beneficial.

Dental Floss
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

To floss or not to floss?

The study certainly doesn’t suggest that flossing causes any harm so I’m guessing continue the practice but the benefits of flossing have certainly been knocked down a notch with the release of this report.

The American Dental Association as well as others have been pushing dental floss for decades with the ADA’s website still reading, “Flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.”

Julius B. Richmond, Surgeon General of the United States first reported the benefits of flossing in 1979 despite the fact that the SG’s report, by law, must be based on scientific studies and evidence. No one reading this will be surprised to know that dental floss manufacturers have also pushed daily flossing or even flossing after each meal.

Employing the Freedom of Information Act last year, the Associated Press asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for proof that the use of dental floss is beneficial and “essential.”

Clearly the Freedom of Information requests made by the Associated Press raised some flags in the surgeon general’s office, because without warning flossing recommendations were removed from the dietary guidelines this year. Additionally, the Associated Press received a letter explaining the benefits of dental floss had never been studied sufficiently and should never have been included in the dietary guidelines.

The Associated Press’ report calls the evidence they received from the studies requested as “weak, very unreliable” with “a moderate to large potential for bias.”

While the report (before released) likely kept a flossing recommendation out of the dietary guidelines (by law), don’t expect people to start throwing away their dental floss or simply stop flossing.

There is little downside to flossing and, if nothing else, gives you two or three minutes each day where you’re not infuriated by reading about something Donald Trump has said or tweeted during those three minutes no matter your party affiliation this week.

“It’s low risk, low cost,” said National Institutes of Health dentist Tim Iafolla “We know there’s a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it.”

What else can you do with dental floss?

While, again, I don’t expect many people to stop flossing or throw away their floss, but surely some will following this report. In that case, don’t throw it away with all its other uses.

Firstly, you can cut a cake quite efficiently with a piece of dental floss. Four “cuts” eight pieces, job done.

If a dripping faucet is keeping you up at night. simply tie a length of dental floss around the bottom of the faucet and let it dangle into the drain, water will attach itself to the floss and quietly makes its way down the drain.

And while many jails and prisons have banned the use of dental floss, if you happen to find yourself in one with a need to escape there have been three successful prison escapes which utilized dental floss to make a rope strong enough to lower the escapee out a window to safety in the last two decades.