Starting a Lifelong Habit: Dental Flossing

Every time you go to the dentist, you hear it: Floss.  Floss more.  Floss better.  It seems like none of us do it well enough or often enough.  Starting a life long habit of flossing your teeth is the best habit you can acquire if you want to keep your teeth.

When you're a child, you may think the reason you brush your teeth is to remove the food, especially the sugar, that remains in your mouth after eating.   When you get a little older, you start thinking more about the quality of your breath.  And by the time you are middle-aged, you are starting to realize that your biggest concern is the quality of your gum tissue.  All of these concerns are addressed by the daily practice of flossing.

Flossing is all about getting rid of bacteria.  The bacteria that like to live in your mouth are only distant relatives of the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract, helping to digest your food.  Like their distant relatives, they attack food, yes, but they also attack your soft tissues (gums) and bones of your mouth.  Eventually, if you don't evict them, they will weaken the attachment of your teeth to your bone, and your teeth will loosen and fall out.  This is the progress of what is commonly known as gum disease, more formally known as periodontal disease.  Your dentist and/or hygienist will be more than happy to tell you more about how it happens.

None of this is inevitable.  Even if you've ignored your dental hygienist's scoldings for years, with a good, deep, professional cleaning and some serious daily flossing, you can not only stop the advancement of this process, but you can actually reverse it and regain lost ground.  Flossing gets rid of food.  Food feeds bacteria.  Bacteria destroy your gums, bones, and teeth.  Brushing will help, rinsing will help, but diligent flossing on a daily basis is essential, and the sooner you start doing this, the sooner it will become habitual and the sooner you can stop complaining about it.

You probably brush your teeth without thinking about it.  Why?  Because you have been doing it since you were a child.  If you have children, do them a favor and teach them to floss at the same time you teach them to brush.  It's like seatbelts and bicycle helmets.  If you're taught to use them, to do it, you will do so without questioning.  Lives, and teeth, will be saved.  Teach them the best way you teach them anything and the only real way you teach them anything at all: teach them by your example.

Given that you are not a child anymore, you have a challenge in making daily flossing a habit.  No matter how much peppermint flavor manufacturers may add to floss, using it will not be as habit-forming as eating candy.  No matter how many varieties of floss are made to make it easier for those with tightly spaced teeth, infirm fingers, or sensitive, already inflamed gum tissue, flossing won't be anticipated with eagerness.  You need to make it a habit.  Here are some ways you can help make it habitual.

  • Do it at the same time every day, preferably before bedtime when you're done eating for the day.  Bacteria love to keep busy in an unclean mouth overnight.
  • Find a way to combine it with another activity.  It doesn't need to be done in front of a mirror once you know what you're doing.  Many successful flossers have found it works well to do it while mellowing out in front of a favorite television show.  You can't do it while you read, but if you read a bedtime story to your children, they can floss while you read.  You can floss while you ride a stationery bike, you can floss while you listen to music.
  • Try flossing every time you brush your teeth.  Take advantage of a habit you already have and simply embellish it.  This is the most straightforward approach to creating a good lifelong flossing habit.
  • Keep floss everywhere.  Keep it in your car, so it's there after you go to a restaurant.  Keep it in your purse or backpack.  Keep it in your desk drawer or locker at work.  Keep it in all your bathrooms, not only for your sake but for your guests as well.
  • Do it in restaurant bathrooms as well as at home.  Don't do it at the table, but do it in public bathrooms, because it is nothing to be ashamed of but rather something you should be proud to flaunt.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll influence someone else to start a good habit.  Do it neatly and politely.  Set a healthy example.

Building a lifelong habit of flossing will prevent tooth decay, keep your breath fresh, prevent bleeding gum, and help you keep your teeth strong and white and attractive.  The next time you see an old person with the shriveled lips that indicate tooth loss, think about what you want for yourself.  If you want to, you can keep your teeth.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.