Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente recently wrote an article following up on the Associated Press’s dismissal of flossing as a useful adjunct to oral health, expressing, I guess, relief that finally she could ignore the advice she receives every time she goes to her dentist’s office. She seems to hate doing the flossing, and resents having an “expert” tell her what to do. Her article in the Globe and Mail, declaring the absolute uselessness of dental floss is, however, wrong on her part. What she says is a misreading of a misreading. The original article by the Associated Press claimed that flossing is useless, as evidenced by a lack of good scientific data supporting the practice, which simply means that a large enough double-blind study hasn’t been done, which I and the American Dental Association acknowledge. This is, however, mainly because the corporations who manufacture floss and toothbrushes and toothpaste and mouth rinse haven’t found it sufficiently important to finance such a study (no one else will because it’s not a matter of public health being threatened enough, like AIDS or Zika virus or Ebola do, which really, and rightly, scare people. Dental decay and gum disease, although very prevalent (dental caries affects more people in the world than any other infection), it doesn’t kill anyone (or hardly anyone, because it can, but rarely in the West), and their effects are slow and limited, for the most part, to the teeth, not the rest of the body. So who cares, right?
Luckily, there are journalists who are more thoughtful. Global News reporter Andrew Russell gives a much more balanced and nuanced picture of this subject.
It’s a little scary to see this issue turned into a controversy by people who dislike doing it, and so feel gratified, if not liberated, by what seems to be a reason for them to stop flossing. It’s more distressing, though, when those who shape public opinion in the news media misreport and misrepresent issues, and then pass them along to other reporters who, in a grotesque sort of broken telephone, blather on about issues which are then presented in a simplistic and distorted fashion to an audience who are unfamiliar with them and accept that whoever is doing the writing must be an “expert” on it. So the “experts” are deciding who the “experts” are, without really vetting the value of the information or disinformation they’re passing on. This doesn’t just apply to this small issue of flossing, but also to more important subjects which make the headlines of our newspapers and the ticker tape display on our news channels. Distressing.
Please continue to floss. It really is good for you.