I went to the dentist for a teeth cleaning the other day. This was my first visit to this particular office so I had to get the full workup, including x-rays. The hygienist asked me about my flossing regimen while he set up the x-ray machine. The conversation went as follows (including my inner monologue):
Hygienist: Do you floss?
Me: Yes. (‘duh! Of course I floss.)
Hygienist: How often?
Me: (What?! You don’t believe me?) Daily.
Hygienist: (Skeptically) Really?
Me: (OK, now this guy is basically calling me a liar. I’ll show him!!) Yup. Every day. (A-hole!)
After the x-rays were taken I sat in the chair expecting the teeth cleaning to commence. I’m sure you know the routine: flossing, scraping off tarter, saline power wash, more scraping, and finally buffering the teeth. (Remember when the dentist did the last part with bubblegum flavored toothpaste? Yuck! Give me regular mint flavor ever time!)
Anyway, the hygienist did something new before all that jazz. He started taking measurements of my gums. Apparently he was making a periodontal chart of me. That chart is the true test of whether a person flosses regularly or not.
I bet the hygienist thought he was going to catch me in a lie when he started taking measurements. He probably was smugly waiting to tell me I had gingivitis. But he didn’t know who he was dealing with! His opportunity for schadenfraude quickly passed when an assistant writing down the measurements proclaimed I was “Mr. Perfect!”
Damn straight! If I could have jumped out of the chair and high 5’d the assistant I would have. Then I would’ve spiked a football right in front of the hygienist to show him I was right all along. I really do floss every day!
So what’s the big deal about flossing?
Conventional dental wisdom is that it prevents gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis, which if left unchecked could cause yellow teeth, premature tooth loss, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. I have my doubts about the last three. I mean c’mon…cancer?! GMAB. That’s pretty far fetched. It’s so far fetched that there’s a recent backlash against flossing altogether.
Some in the media claim that you can stop flossing because the federal government removed its flossing recommendation from dietary guidelines. Personally, I don’t know why flossing had anything to do with the food pyramid for the last 30 years, but its removal is causing quite the stir. It’s giving every shortsighted non-flosser a convenient excuse to continue his lazy ways. Nevertheless, the article is classic click-bait. The scientific evidence on flossing from the 1970s may be too weak for feds to make an official recommendation anymore, but their opinion doesn’t really matter.
The true subject matter expert is your dentist and she says flossing prevents gum diseases. The causal link is clear, albeit anecdotally. If you don’t floss for 6 months (or longer) between cleanings your gums will bleed like a sieve during your next visit to the dentist. Stigmata of the gums sure seems to be a problem any way you cut it (or floss it in this case). I know it and you know too. This inconvenient truth is only avoided if you skip your next visit to the dentist. You can run but you cannot hide.
Beyond preventing gum disease (and maybe cancer!! j/k) flossing is another reminder that the little things in life matter, just like making the bed. As Admiral William McCraven said in his commencement speech to University of Texas in 2014:
“If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”
Comedian Maeve Higgins agrees. She attributes her colleague Josh Gondelman’s success in life, love, and pet care to flossing daily on the Surprisingly Awesome podcast on flossing, which by the way was the inspiration for my writing this blog post.
The even better part of flossing is that there is a lucid payoff that making the bed and other “little things in life” don’t provide. You can mentally scream Come at me, bro! to that smug hygienist the next time he tries to floss-shame you, and every 6 months thereafter. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Thanks for reading,