Does your dentist lecture you at every visit about flossing more? Your dentist is right -- not flossing can be serious and can contribute to bad breath, heart disease, dementia, and cavities and tooth loss.
But here's where your dentist is wrong: Telling you to floss more isn't going to do anything. If you've ever had teenagers in your house, like I have, you know that lectures don't change behavior. Far from it!
That's because new habits are built with two essential ingredients: a cue and a reward.
You know that gross feeling on your teeth if you skip a brushing session? Without fail, this feeling reminds you to brush. You have a cue (that gross feeling in your mouth) and a reward (a minty toothpaste and slippery teeth that feel clean).
But if you're not already a flosser, you can easily go for weeks or even the full six months before your next teeth cleaning without flossing. That's because there isn't really a cue that signals us to floss.
Why We Brush But Don't Floss
You can thank an ad campaign for this. In the early 1900s, American dental hygiene was so bad that it was considered a national security risk -- no one was brushing their teeth.
The toothpaste company Pepsodent ran a campaign that told people, "Just run your tongue across your teeth. You'll feel a film -- that's what makes your teeth look 'off color' and invites decay. Why would you keep a dingy film on your teeth? Our toothpaste removes the film!"
That's all it took. People now had something that told them when to brush. The film was a cue.
That's why, nowadays, people usually are good about brushing their teeth.
But it's less often that people are good flossers. And that's simply because we're missing that cue that tells us to floss.
Making Flossing a Habit With Oranges
If you've been told you need to floss more, try this:
Choose a favorite food that you like that gets stuck in your teeth. Great choices include popcorn, oranges, grapefruit, raspberries -- really, anything that you know will get stuck and annoy you until it gets flossed out.
Try this out until you start to like the feeling of flossing. Once you get the hang of it, trust me, you won't be able to go to bed without flossing. It'll feel as if you were going to bed without brushing -- totally gross!
Let me know what your "flossing food" is in the comments below!
Mark Burhenne DDS