To floss or not to floss that is the question

The lack of evidence for flossing could do more harm than good, Michael Watson says

The recent headlines on flossing could do more harm than good, Michael Watson says.

The silly season got well underway last week.

For the uninitiated this is when the makers of serious news take their summer holidays and journalists are forced into writing ‘silly’ stories.

The week started in good form with pictures of the ex-PM taking a dip in Corsica wearing a £225 swim-suit, which looked no better than the ones my wife buys me for a tenth of the price.

Then we had the leaked resignation honours list, only to find that it wasn’t ‘silly’, it was true.


Next the ‘silly’ spotlight turned on us and whether daily flossing did any good.

The US health department admitted that there is no scientific evidence to show that daily flossing works, so has now removed it from the list of dental recommendations.

Public Health England is to review its guidance, which currently recommends flossing once a day.

This has not gone down well with the perio people, one distinguished English periodontist blogged saying that there is little evidence that jumping out of an aeroplane is dangerous, but its not something that is recommended.

The president of the American Academy of Periodontology, said: ‘It’s like building a house and not painting two sides of it.

‘Ultimately, those two sides are going to rot away quicker.’

The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy is advising its members and patients that regular interdental cleaning remains a valuable part of their oral health routine.

But Professor Damien Walmsley, the BDA’s scientific adviser, said: ‘Floss is of little value unless the spaces between your teeth are too tight for the inter-dental brushes to fit without hurting or causing harm.

‘It’s important to tell people to do the basics.

‘Flossing is not part of the basics.’

More harm than good

It has been estimated that fewer than one quarter of Brits manage to sustain flossing for any length of time.

I suspect that in the USA, where flossing is akin to a religion, the proportion could be higher.

But even the most enthusiastic flosser must admit it is a chore, with very view visible effects and requiring some manual dexterity.

If the advice crosses the Atlantic, it will not deter those who have this as part of their routine.

It will give the non-flosser relief from any felling of guilt about their non-performance.

It’s a bit like telling people that they don’t need their ‘five-a-day’ or that vaping doesn’t lead to disease or that you can eat dairy fat.

So if telling people they needn’t floss leads to neglecting other oral hygiene routines, it could do a lot more harm than good.

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