Flossing Fiction

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.

IMG_2496Now I learn that the federal government is grudgingly conceding that there really isn’t any scientific evidence that daily flossing does anything to prevent cavities or gum disease.

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.


Spending Time With Mr. Inside And Mr. Outside

There seems to be a direct correlation between my age and the amount of time I spend on personal dental care.

When I was a kid, I paid virtually no attention to the need to brush my teeth.  Back then, the only cavity-fighting implements were a toothbrush and a tube of Pepsodent.  I ignored them, ate sugary cereals with reckless abandon, and ended up with a mouth full of metal fillings.  As I matured, I slowly came to realize that getting my yap shot full of novacaine and having my teeth drilled down to the nerve level wasn’t much fun, and was expensive, besides — but the damage was done.

Over the years, new weapons have been added to the dental care arsenal.  First it was the Water Pik, then dental floss, then tooth whitening strips, then tiny brushes to reach the “food traps” between your teeth.  The most recent addition to my toothbrush holder is an odd, angled, double-ended brush with “inside” written on one end and “outside” on the other.  You use it to sweep along the inside and outside of the gums along your back teeth, hoping to avoid deepening “pockets” back there.  Every morning when I use it I inevitably think of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard.

With each new dental care device, I spend more time in front of the bathroom mirror, fighting a desperate, rear-guard action against jawbone loss, retreating gum lines, and a mouth that reveals that I am, literally, long in the tooth.  I wish I could say that my morning ablutions are a time of rich personal reflection, but they aren’t.  As I proceed through my progression of brushes, flosses, picks, and rubber-tipped appliances, I hope only that my belated devotion to dental discipline will allow me to somehow avoid crushingly expensive crowns, implants, root canals, visits to oral surgeons, and other literally and economically painful fruits of my youthful dental indiscretions.