In August 2016, the Associated Press conducted an investigation that seemed to discredit the importance of teeth flossing. However, you might not want to toss away your dental floss just yet.
For decades, nearly all dental professionals stressed daily flossing to prevent complications such as gum disease and cavities. “Flossing is an essential part of takingcare of your teeth and gums,” according to the American Dental Association’s website.
Although the federal government has also endorsed flossing regularly since 1979, their latest dietary guidelines mysteriously excluded this recommendation. When the Associated Press then launched an investigation, they found that the government lacked any hard evidence of the benefits of flossing.
Snopes, a website dedicated to investigating public rumors, responded to the news a few days later. According to Snopes, the issues of conducting research of people’s flossing habits makes it difficult to prove the benefits of flossing. They claimed the AP’s investigation is not enough to truly determine the importance of flossing.
Snopes brings up several issues that could hinder research of the general public’s flossing habits. For instance, telling a control group of participants to never floss could be considered an ethical conflict. Additionally, researchers would have no way of knowing for certain whether participants actually floss or not. Even surveys can be misleading because people sometimes lie about their flossing habits to the dentist.
Rachel O’Malley, a psychology junior from Vero Beach at UNF, was more inclined to trust Snopes in this case.“The original article just seems kind of clickbait–y,” she said. “Most people don’t floss regularly, so you know people are going to be sharing that article on Facebook and stuff like, ‘oh! Take that, dentists!’ but it’s like, common sense that cleaning between your teeth is probably better than just leaving s— in there.”
Much of the evidence in favor of flossing is anecdotal. “As soon as a patient opens their mouth, [a dentist] can tell which ones have been flossing and which ones haven’t been, because their gums are healthier,” said Dr.Timothy Iafolla of the National Institute of Health.
UNF nursing sophomore Robert Murphy from Ponte Vedra Beach said he felt the Snopes explanations seemed like cop-outs.
“A lot of people don’t floss anyway,” he said. “I mean, I never floss. I don’t see what’s really unethical about using people who wouldn’t be flossing otherwise as the control group for a study. Studies have been published on much more obscure things. It’s weird that it’s apparently so difficult to conduct a study on flossing.”
Researchers inability to know how well or how often the participants would be flossing is an additional complication, according to Snopes.
Kaylee Reynolds, a senior history major from Jacksonville also leaned more towards the Snopes standpoint.
“I was happy when I saw the [AP] article,” she laughed. “I’m so bad with flossing, so it gave me hope that maybe my dental health isn’t as bad as I thought. But I like Snopes.They’re always pretty good about fact-checking and being thorough, so I just tend to trust them.”