Thank to the Associated Press, we all have a thoroughly researched comeback for the next time a dentist chides us for flossing.
According to a new piece by writer Jeff Donn, the years of medical evidence that regularly encourage dentists to recommend the practice is as flaky as the plaque it supposedly removes.
Last year, the site asked for the government to turn over its evidence that flossing actually was effective, eventually invoking the Freedom of Information Act. Although that maneuver may sound like overkill, the AP eventually received a letter from the government stating that the “evidence” had never actually been researched. Further, his request forced the government to officially remove flossing from the national dietary guidelines.
This prompted Donn and the AP to perform a root canal of the common research most often cited by experts recommending flossing:
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.”
Further, the AP found out that most people, including research subjects, are often using floss incorrectly. Per one New Jersey dentist’s instructions, rather than sawing back-and-forth, an up-and-down method is favored.
There’s also a bit of possible corporate scandal lodged into this gaping fact check. Many floss companies go to great lengths and payouts to get an American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance slapped onto their product because of its influence on buyers.
Companies apparently pay $14,500 up-front for the ADA to evaluate their product and then are charged an annual $3,500 to keep the seal if it’s approved. Although the ADA claims it makes no profit from the seal approval process, the companies are the ones who design the tests, not the ADA.
Read the whole investigation here to pick out more of the grainy details. According to Poynter’s interview with Donn, he still flosses to get gunk out of his teeth and his wife doesn’t approve of using a finger or fork. “But I think the best science indicates that I’m not doing anything beneficial for my health,” he said.