Real talk: I’m still working on that flossing habit

A recent New York Times headline made all of us who fail to floss “perfectly” feel less “guilty” about our inability to form two daily oral health habits, just the one (brushing) is maxing us out. The article outlines a lack of evidence that daily flossing is effective in preventing either cavities or gum disease*, ergo, why even bother?

Exact headline: “Feeling Guilty About Not Flossing? Maybe There’s No Need”

Apparently the latest dietary guidelines for Americans “quietly dropped any mention of flossing,” and did so “without notice,” but someone was not about to let it go quietly. My guess is that person hasn’t been flossing and was like, VALIDATION. Or maybe after combing through the guidelines for the Nth time, someone was sick of talking about sugar and fat and was like, Waaaaaait a minute…we missed something! Or maybe some oral health enthusiast was outraged by flossing’s absence. Who knows.

Look closely, though.

Refrain from just reading every caption by people who shared this on all the social media places because Yes, in response to that headline, they HAVE been feeling guilty. But now they feel great! As with most, if not all, clickbait pieces like this, it does not say you should STOP flossing. In conclusion, journalist Catherine Saint Louis is careful to note:

“So maybe perfect flossing is effective. But scientists would be hard put to find anyone to test that theory.”

Maybe the quality of evidence is considered low, maybe thorough studies haven’t been done to confirm effectiveness of daily flossing, maybe subjects have not been observed long enough to adequately determine whether or not “perfect” or even mediocre flossing, daily, can help prevent severe gum disease. *Three dentists quoted in the article argue their belief that daily flossing is very likely a worthwhile preventative practice.

Confession: I’m not a daily flosser, though I aspire to be.

I do feel guilty about it every time I go to the dentist (which is happening in two days). I wish it wasn’t a thing, but it is.  There are much bigger problems in this world than trying to gently floss a string through your teeth. But I’m not about to say it’s not worth doing when every dentist seems to think otherwise. I doubt the floss industry is that powerful, but maybe that’s the next deep dive in this saga.

I am a cynical health news reader, though, and I want you to be, too.

Actually, just a reader first would be good. That title is catchy; kudos, Catherine. But if you pause to read carefully, it’s also telling. “Maybe” you shouldn’t feel guilty about not flossing; maybe it’s still a good thing to be doing as often as you remember to. This is the story behind most, if not all, nutrition and fitness headlines, too. Guilt-, shame-,  fear-inducing OR validating clickbait messages that too easily get a share, because it tapped into an emotion that trumps logic or reason.

If content resonates with you, teaches you something, presents a new world view to you, by all means, hit that “share” button. But do it with caution, and a small dose of cynicism. Is the content saying what you think it does? Do you feel validated, ashamed, shocked, guilty, or afraid? If you’ve answered yes to any of those, read thoroughly. What’s the real message? Usually the message takes you right back to what you probably already knew. 

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