Flossing is annoying as hell, and now it turns out it might not even be that useful. Though it’s been recommended by medical professionals and the US government for decades, there’s no good evidence it actually works to prevent cavities and gum disease, The Associated Press reports.
The AP reviewed several scientific studies conducted in the past 10 years that looked at how effective flossing is. The findings show that the evidence for flossing is "weak, very unreliable," of "very low" quality, and carries "a moderate to large potential for bias," the AP reports.
The evidence for flossing is "weak, very unreliable"
The US government has been recommending flossing since 1979, and including the practice in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. By law, those guidelines must be backed by scientific research. But when last year, The Associated Press asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for their evidence, the government wrote a letter to the AP saying that the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched. Flossing has since been removed from the dietary guidelines, which are issued every five years, according to the AP.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology both recommend flossing for removing plaque and preventing gingivitis and tooth decay. But the studies the groups cited for supporting these claims were outdated or tested few patients, according to the AP.
"It's low risk, low cost."
Flossing has been around since the early 19th century and the first floss patent was issued in 1874. Back then, no scientific evidence was required to make a health recommendation. If done improperly, flossing can damage gums and even cause infections. Despite the scant evidence, people should still floss, according to the National Institutes of Health dentist Tim Iafolla. "It's low risk, low cost," Iafolla told the AP. "We know there's a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it."
It’s also incredibly satisfying to get a stuck piece of steak or a frustrating corn kernel out of your teeth. So I guess I’ll keep flossing — even though there’s no good evidence that it works.