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Here's The Man Who Showed The World That Flossing Doesn't Work

Never feel guilty about not flossing again.

If you've ever felt guilty about how little you floss, this week brought sweet, sweet vindication when the Associated Press dropped the biggest journalism scoop of the decade: Flossing, it turns out, has been way overhyped.

Despite years of study, there's little proof that flossing daily actually works.

For decades, daily flossing has been recommended by public health agencies, governments, and of course dentists.

But the AP reported that according to the best research out there, the evidence that flossing actually works is "weak" and "very unreliable."

We've all been lied to!

Many people refused to change.

Floss & flossing are two of he most important things in my life. I will wrestle anyone who says it doesn't work. I will literally fight you.

Just so you know, you'll have to tear the #floss from my cold, dead hands.

While others celebrated their Independence Day (from floss guilt, that is).

It's a great day. I just dumped 20 years of guilt when I heard the latest about flossing. FREEDOM!

But how did we go so long believing a lie? And why the hell are we only finding out about this now?

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

It turns out, the story started with a tip from within the dental-industrial complex. Reporter Jeff Donn said it was his son's orthodontist who first tipped him off that there was a big flossing scandal waiting to be exposed.

AP Photo

"My son was having work done on his braces and the orthodontist knew that I was an investigative reporter for the AP," Donn told BuzzFeed News.

"He said, 'You know there's really no good evidence that flossing is effective.'"

Donn was inclined to dismiss it. After all, how could flossing not work? We've been told for decades that it's essential to good oral health. But as soon as Donn started looking into the research, "it became clear to me that this tip was pretty serious, and this widely recommended practice didn't have good scientific backup."

Donn scoured the medical literature and found that the evidence for daily flossing as a universal recommendation just wasn't there.

Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images

Donn filed a freedom of information request asking the federal government for the scientific evidence on which it based its recommendation for flossing.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines have included the recommendation for years. But in January, flossing was suddenly gone.

"The next day they wrote me an answer to my [information request], saying 'We haven't found anything because the committees that do the research never researched floss.'"

And just like that, government policy was changed and the world was freed from the tyranny of floss-guilting dentists.

Donn has been a journalist for three decades. He has worked on many investigations, including one into U.S. nuclear safety for which he was a Pulitzer finalist. But he says the flossing story has had as big an impact as anything else he's done.

"It ranks right up there," Donn said. "I really couldn't have anticipated this strong of a reaction."

Donn said that in addition to being covered on hundreds of news websites, the flossing story also made the front pages of some 50 newspapers, and he's been receiving a ton of emails from readers.

"There's something that is apparently very intimate and close to people about the issue of flossing and I didn't anticipate it," he said.