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Setting the Record Straight About Flossing

Last summer, when the Federal Government removed the practice of teeth flossing as an official dietary guideline, many Americans were left wondering if they’d been wasting their time and their dental floss.  Since first becoming a dietary guideline in 1979, flossing has become a staple of many Americans’ daily oral health routines. Used to remove plaque and food debris from between the teeth, flossing may also help prevent everything from cavities to periodontal disease to even heart disease. Not surprisingly, many dental professionals worried that the Federal Government’s new omission might cause patients to stop flossing, especially those who didn’t read beyond the headlines. 

When the Associated Press released an article in August of 2016, entitled "Medical Benefits of Dental Floss Unproven," floss-haters across America rejoiced and likely tossed their dental floss. But for many, that celebration has been short lived, because though the article claimed that the benefits of flossing had not been studied adequately enough to earn it the title of dietary guideline, the lack of research keeping it from that distinction did not outweigh the actual benefits of flossing. In order for something to be considered a dietary guideline, it must be backed by a minimum amount of scientific studies; something which had never officially been done for teeth flossing. Thus, despite years of proven anecdotal evidence, the Federal Government dropped the recommendation pending more valid scientific data.

"But you’d never know that if you didn’t read more than just the headlines," said Dr. Stephen Hill, an Allen, Texas dentist. "Some headlines implied that flossing was useless, or a waste of time- which simply isn’t true- and that caused a lot of confusion."

But why is that? Well, for starters, according to a study by the Media Impact Project, only about sixty percent of Americans actually read more than just the headlines. 

"That means anyone who just read the headline to this article or any of the dozens of articles about it may have gotten the wrong idea about flossing- and never attempted to learn more," Hill said. 

This is especially troubling because according to Hill, flossing is still absolutely integral to good oral hygiene, but the crux of the issue is that the AP was unable to locate any studies to support this, and that’s why the guideline was dropped. Explains Hill 

"Imagine if there were no study saying that brushing your teeth is good for you, or that exercise is good for you," Hill said. "If you brush your teeth and exercise, you already know they’re good for you because you see and feel the results. But the way the announcement was made, it seemed like there was suddenly new evidence refuting the benefits of flossing when it was just a discovery of a lack of qualifying data."

So, what does this mean for the future of flossing? Hill for one would like to put this particular piece of misinformation to rest. 

"Yes, you still need to floss at least once a day, every day," he said. "No article or study will change that. Brushing alone only gets about seventy percent of the plaque and food from your teeth, but most people cannot fit a toothbrush between their teeth. Flossing is still the best way to the remaining thirty percent."

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