I’m a daily flosser. I listened to the instructions of the U.S. government, and the hectoring of my dental hygienist, that daily flossing of your teeth is an important part of preventing cavities, removing dreaded plaque, and preventing gum disease. I’ve even given careful thought to whether it makes more sense to brush before flossing, or vice versa.
The government has been telling us to floss since 1979. It’s been part of the dietary guidelines that the government issues every five years, which as a matter of law have to be based on scientific evidence. But when the Associated Press used the Freedom of Information Act to ask for the scientific evidence underlying the daily flossing recommendation, the feds responded by admitting that the merits of flossing had never really been researched — and when the government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the daily flossing instruction was unceremoniously deleted. The AP then did its own look at the scientific evidence for daily flossing, and found that the evidence is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.”
So, for decades, the government has been telling us to do something and representing that it would produce health benefits, without real evidence in support. How many public service announcements, pamphlets distributed to kids in health classes, and government websites over the past 35 years have repeated the apparent flossing fiction — and, perhaps, other fictions as well? It makes you wonder how much more of the lifestyle lecturing we get from the National Nanny is based upon speculation, guesswork, or perhaps artful lobbying by the manufacturers of consumer products.
Since I read the AP article, I’ve been thinking about whether I’ll continue to floss. I feel misled by my government, sure . . . but I think I probably will. After all, I’ve got a bunch of floss containers in the bathroom, and I may as well use them up. And, it’s become part of the morning routine designed to make my teeth and gums feel spotless and invigorated, and I’m a creature of habit. And, whatever the feds might do, I know that my dental hygienist is going to rip me if I don’t floss — scientific evidence or not — and I definitely don’t want to get on her bad side.