A fuss over flossing


Photo by nitsrejk on Flickr

Flossing is a strange beast, and, if you’re like me, it doesn’t go down quietly. I brush my teeth twice a day without complaint and yet I’m lucky if I floss once a week. My resolutions to floss more are broken at least as often as my resolutions to stop procrastinating (the two might be related). But while procrastinating has its consequences, none of them are quite as punitive as that painful trip to the dentist – what should be a routine cleaning always becomes a torturous test of my pain tolerance.

Eschewing the wonders of novacaine may have something to do with the amount of misery these visits inflict, but I know deep down that the real problem is flossing. (That, and letting two years go between trips to the dentist – but that’s another story.) I know I should floss, I know why I should floss, and yet I don’t floss, and I have the tartar buildup to prove it. Is it that flossing didn’t become a part of the holy canon of physical hygiene until after I’d become set in my ways? Or are the benefits – removing that offending bit of corn aside – so long term that my mind refuses to process them? It certainly seems to be the latter when I’m debating whether to floss or get three more minutes of sleep.

Photo by daviddmuir on Flickr

Photo by daviddmuir on Flickr

If the physical arguments aren’t compelling enough, perhaps the financial ones are. Let’s use my recent visit as an example. A regular cleaning costs about $60 with a discount program like VitalSavings. “Deep cleaning” – nowadays done with ultrasound-equipped scrapers – costs about $135 per quadrant, or $540 for the entire mouth. In my case, I got a 4-for-3 deal (poor grad student FTW!) but had additional charges for the general exam and x-ray updates. Assuming I’d gone to the dentist four times in the last two years and had flossed regularly like I’m supposed to, I would have spent maybe $300 on dental care. Instead, I spent close to $500.

Were those minutes of sleep collected over two years worth $200? Probably not. Were they worth the hour I spent with my mouth open and high-pitched buzzing sounds reverberating through my head, white-knuckled fingers gripping the armrests as piercing bolts of hurt shot down my nerves? Hell, no!

So, this time I’m determined to be good about flossing.

Starting tomorrow.


6 Responses to A fuss over flossing

  1. Euge says:

    importance of flossing > importance of brushing!

  2. Steve Koch says:

    I think it’s time someone showed me the clinical trials proving the need for flossing. Then I will still not do it, but I will even more know the need. Pfizer used to claim that Listerine was more effective than flossing, but some judge or the FDA made them quit saying that. Listerine is way easier than flossing, so I demand someone invent something that is better than flossing and doesn’t suck. :)

  3. shwu says:

    In theory it should be easy: one group of people flosses every day, another group does not, oral hygiene otherwise the same (and “normal” diet as much as you can control that), wait one year and then look at their teeth. But it might be too difficult to find a group of people who can reliably floss every day ;)

    I have plenty of anecdotal evidence, though…

  4. kitt says:

    Eh, I’m not so sold on the flossing thing. Better yet, I’ve managed to stop feeling guilty about not flossing every day.

    I floss maybe once a week. My checkup last week had the hygienist hesitant to tell me my mouth was fine, for fear I wouldn’t floss even once a week.

    My mom flosses three times a day, every freaking day. She has more problems with her teeth than I do, including the need for deep cleanings AND having her dentist accuse her of NOT flossing.

    Maybe having straight teeth limiting what gets stuck is more of a factor than actually flossing? If you don’t have anything sticking, wouldn’t the need to floss decrease?

  5. kitt says:

    P.S. did you floss today?

  6. shwu says:

    I have actually flossed every day since I posted this. But I’m tempted to do it less often because hardly anything comes out with the flossing! But I have to admit, flossing is much faster now.

    I’m sure there’s genetics and diet and all sorts of other things involved with the efficacy of oral hygiene as well. And I’m pretty sure I should floss at least once a week based on my recent dentist visits. To each her own.

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