Do we really need to floss? Dentists say yes, science says no

In a world divided between those who do and those who don't, Paul Elledge is definitely in pro-flossing camp.

"I try to remember to floss every time,” Elledge says, “But it’s probably closer to 4-5 times a week."

And that's how most of us have grown up, being told to floss at least once a day to keep our gums healthy.

But recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quietly dropped its dietary guidelines recommendation Americans floss after an Associated Press reporter asked to see the research that shows flossing is effective. Turns out there really wasn't any.

Inman Park Dentistry's Dr. Alex Rodriguez says his patients have been asking about flossing all week, since the AP report came out.  He admits there is little hard science to prove flossing works to prevent gum disease and dental decay.

"We've been recommending flossing in dentistry for 150 years,” Dr. Rodriguez says.  “And it's one of those things. There are lots of studies about it. But the problem is a lot of those studies are old, they’re outdated. They were on a limited number of people. They were done for, like, a month."

Rodriguez says it takes years, sometimes decades, for people to develop gum disease. 

So, short-term flossing studies won't reveal much, if anything. But, that doesn't change his opinion, or what he sees as a dentist.

"So, you ask any dentist, any hygienist who is sitting there all day, working on people's teeth, all day every day.  They can definitely tell you the benefits of flossing we see it every day,” Rodriguez says. “People's gums are healthier their mouths are healthier. Their bodies are healthier."

But, until we have more scientific evidence to validate flossing, Rodriguez predicts the flossers will keep flossing, and non-flossers will feel less guilty about not flossing.

But he will never give up his floss.  The very idea makes him uneasy.

“Everybody knows you can't just let that gunk build up on your teeth,” he says. “The amount of bacteria that is living on that plaque on your teeth, you can see it in a microscope. It's disgusting. It's gross. You've got to get that off. You can't let it just live there.”