I think I’ve mentioned this in a blog post before (but I’m too lazy to check so I’m just going to plagiarize from myself): I hate when I’m at the dentist and he/she says accusingly, “I can tell you don’t floss. Your gums are bleeding.” Yeah, obviously they’re bleeding, you’re jabbing a needle-sharp piece of metal into them.
But let’s be honest, I don’t really floss. Or didn’t use to. But now I do. And maybe, by the end of this blog post, maybe you will too…
First, what you really need to do is spend a day shadowing in a dental clinic in an under-served area. What, not really on your to-do list for this week? Well, don’t worry, I did it for you on my Family Medicine rotation. I’m going to go ahead and speak from a place of tremendous privilege and say–I’ve always had dental insurance. I go twice a year to the dentist to get my gums prodded (and judged). And even then, even then, they once found seven cavities at one visit.
Anyway, what I’m driving at is: I keep my teeth in generally good health, and I’ve never seen how bad they can get. My only experience with cavities is the undetectable-on-x-ray ones that get filled with some white stuff that’s almost impossible to distinguish from my actual tooth. So, when I saw patients whose teeth were bothering them so much that they finally went to the dentist, after years of never coming in…well. Let me say, I started bringing a toothbrush to work.
It’s not just the looks. It’s the thought of horrible, throbbing pain as bacteria eat their way inside your teeth, into your gums and jawbone and bloodstream and arrghhhhh. And also the drilling. I thought feeling the drill vibrate through my entire skull was pretty bad, but watching it sink into someone’s teeth, spewing tooth dust and leaving horrible empty holes inside their molars, is almost worse. Or pulling teeth out! They don’t pop out cleanly–you have to actually dig them out, with an array of tools like sharpened spoons and pliers, literal pliers. And extracted molars look like deformed alien hands, with their roots all splayed out and bloodied.
Anyway. Onto flossing! I decided to be really virtuous and get all that gunk out from between my teeth. Maybe this is only news to me, as a non-flosser, but…holy halitosis. Do you happen to be familiar with that particular smell, that I like to call “old-man-coffee-breath?” Well. I drink coffee. And despite not being an old man, I was gripped with the sudden realization that the contents of my own mouth could have proudly held their own at a convention of geriatric mouth-breathers. But really. Does my breath actually smell like this? Have people just been really polite all my life? Did you know your mouth bacteria are mostly anaerobes, same as in your colon? Isn’t that just lovely? Do you have any gum?
And there you have it: how to motivate yourself to be a daily flosser. Just floss once…and smell it. It won’t even be a chore anymore, it’ll be like public service, for your love life. It’s also oddly satisfying in a gross way, like picking a scab. Happy hygiene!