Lay back, close your eyes, and imagine the following scenario with me…
You are in the dentist office. Yes, it’s that time again – your six month’s appointment to get your teeth cleaned. You try to get as comfortable as you can in a chair that is tipped back just far enough that everything in your pockets threatens to slide out. The hygienist starts scraping away at build-up that is attached like cement. Each taste of blood reminds you that you should have been better about your oral care.
Then it comes…the question that seems stuck in time, unable to evolve with advancing technology. “Do you floss?”, she asks, peering down at you with her specialty glasses that magnify everything, including your squirm.
Your mind races. If only you could hide under the lead apron! Maybe you can change the subject, say, by bringing up the evils of sugar-loaded energy drinks. Isn’t there some provision for just having to give your name, rank, and insurance group number? But no, she is holding up her sharp tool in a menacing sort of way and your neglect is in the spotlight, also known as the overhead light. You take a big gulp of gritty polishing paste and stammer, “Well, I’m trying to be better….” You know the truth and suspects she does too. The stark reality is that you flossed for a couple of days after your last interrogation…er, check-up and then life got in the way. The reminder call you received yesterday about your appointment was a reminder to floss this morning.
Your feeble response starts up a familiar one-sided conversation. As she goes back to chiseling and making her point (literally), your hygienist again recounts the health reasons that support regular flossing*. The volley of information is fast and furious, leaving you sounding suicidal if you reject it. You hear that heart disease, stroke, and low-birth-weight babies can all be a result of your neglect. Once again, you resolve to do better, but you’ve made that promise before and question if six months from now will be déjà vu all over again.
If this little humorous tale hits a little too close to home, I can help you. You see, I’m a dental hygienist. I have been the one holding the pick, but I’ve also been the person in the chair. Let’s face it, dental flossing isn’t fun. If it is, keep reading my blog posts to get inspired to add some hobbies into your life! I’ve been telling my patients for years that it seems like there are few things in life that someone won’t find a way to take to an extreme. Many of these things are good in moderation but have detrimental effects if done in excess. Take drinking water, for example. Many experts claim most of us need to drink more water, but even drinking water can cause death if consumed in ridiculous quantities. However, I have yet to find a patient whom I’ve had to ask to back off on flossing. Last time I checked, there were no Flossers Anonymous clubs.
Believe me, I have heard every excuse in the book from patients who don’t floss. People will tell me their gums bleed, their teeth are too close together, their hands are too big, or they just don’t have time. I even once had a patient tell me that he didn’t think he needed to floss because “deer don’t floss”! Really?
Although these excuses might make us feel better about our neglect, none really have any logic behind them. The truth is that society doesn’t place a big value on daily flossing. If you doubt me, try this experiment. Go to your office, your church, or your holiday family gathering. Announce that you haven’t brushed in a couple of weeks. Notice how people around you subconsciously hold their breath and step back a couple of feet from you as they stifle a gag. Then the next day tell someone different that you haven’t flossed in two weeks. Most likely they will laugh and share that they haven’t flossed in a couple of months. To be able to get into a daily mode of flossing, you must be convinced that the same gunk that you would not dare leave the house without brushing off is still wedged between your teeth.
- Choose wisely. Back when I started in the dental field, there were two choices – waxed or unwaxed. Those in favor of the unwaxed variety were concerned about teeth suffering from waxy build up. Nowadays there are plastic flosses, which don’t tend to separate into fiber strands when squeezing between tight or rough areas. I know people who reject the plastic because it doesn’t grab the tooth surface enough. In the end, I say use what works for your type of teeth. If you can’t get it through, you simply won’t use it.
- Feeling frustrated with the string? Look for something else. Personally, I like the old fashioned string style the best. I feel like it can be maneuvered around the corners of teeth better. You may be more likely to floss if you use floss picks (those things that look like miniature hacksaws). If the discarded ones I find in random parking lots are any indication, these styles have leaped over their competition. My recommendation when buying floss picks is to look for ones that have the longest string part. This should enable enough play in the floss to be able to hug your tooth sufficiently. Besides floss picks, there are wooden picks and nylon brushes that are made to go between teeth. There are even battery-operated flossers that will do everything except jump into your mouth.
- Floss at a particular time of day. If you take daily medication, you know how well you’d remember to take it if you took it at random times during the day. Flossing is no different. Don’t decide you are going to start tomorrow morning, then in your rush to get into the day, decide that you will just do it before bed. Be honest with yourself and admit that this procrastinating thought process will land you back in time out with your hygienist. Although some dental professionals subscribe to either morning or night being best, I really think each person should decide a realistic time of day for themselves.
- Don’t put your floss with your toothbrush. “Why?” you ask. Well, go find out where your floss is right now. By your toothbrush, right? And how’s that working for you? Until you get a daily habit established, you need to put your floss in a visible place as a reminder. My favorite places are on the coffee pot, on top of the remote control, or in the shower. Floss when you are using these other daily activities. Note: I have had patients floss while driving. I don’t recommend it.
- Reward yourself for flossing. You can keep track of your progress on a chart attached to your mirror, on your calendar, or with a habit app. My sister found an app that gave her virtual stars for each day of flossing. She kept at it so that she didn’t break her streak. Set a goal (two months of daily flossing is a great start) and then reward yourself when you do it. Make the reward nice enough that it keeps you consistent, like maybe splurging on a rechargeable toothbrush.
I have found that some people are determined not to floss. Nothing usually motivates these people to change their mind, even when they find their teeth are getting loose. However, I have found that most people really see the value, they just exaggerate the difficulty in implementing it or don’t set themselves up for success. Try some of the above ideas and maybe your next visit to the dentist will find you smiling!
*There have been some recent news stories that question whether flossing really has much impact on disease. Most dental providers still recommend flossing or other interproximal care.