Mark Twain popularized the quote: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” He used this phrase to talk about the persuasive power numbers have and how they can be manipulated by individuals to push a public agenda. Mark Twain, a clairvoyant by many accounts, probably would have used this phrase to describe the recent story that has made big news regarding flossing these past few days.
Last week the Associated Press (1) released an investigative report citing “weak evidence” behind the importance of flossing. This report incited a maelstrom of articles, blogs, and interviews that have all called into question the once-obvious recommendation by dentists to their patients on the need for flossing to be included into oral hygiene routines. In fact, to date, this report has been mentioned on more than 150 different news sites, and that number continues to grow. Hundreds of patients have been asking their dentist or other dental professionals why they have been encouraged to floss if it doesn’t work.
The intent of this article is to give the history behind this investigative report, examine what the term “weak evidence” means in the larger scheme of things, and offer dental professionals talking points when your patients ask about the importance of flossing.