Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How Flossing Changed My Life

I strive to be truthful. But I used to lie to my dental hygienist twice a year, without fail, when she would ask me if I flossed. "MmmHmm," I nodded as I tried to make sure and answer while her fingers were in my mouth, hopefully obscuring my guilty face. And then she would remark on my bleeding gums and I would say, "Well, not every day," which meant, "Well, only once in a while when I get a popcorn kernel stuck in my molar." And she would smile politely and then get serious and tell me I really should be flossing blah blah blah.

I finally realized that this little untruth, though practically a national pastime, was the worst part of my dental appointments. It pained me even more than the dragging of those pointy spiral instruments past my aching gums. So I finally just decided to tell her the truth, that I did not floss. I thought maybe that would garner some sympathy, that I'd get points for being the one and only person in the chair that day who admitted her shortcomings. But instead I didn't even get a sympathetic smile this time, just a stern talking-to about gum disease.

And then I moved to Germany and met the kindest, friendliest hygienist I've ever known, who cheerfully gave me two teeth-cleanings straight from a Stephen King novel. I swear I saw my own blood spattered on the ceiling as I rose from the chair. And I went home and broke out the dental floss.

I have too many teeth that are too big for my mouth. This meant braces and appliances and rubber bands and elementary school photos wherein I look like a K-9 or a descendant of Nosferatu. Now that the cosmetics are straightened out, my teeth are crammed so tightly together that anything I try to slide between them becomes caught. Floss shreds. Toothpicks splinter. And I have a permanently-installed retainer that traps food particles like a Venus Flytrap grabs insects (yum). So that's always been my excuse for poor dental hygiene. But I was determined to avoid needing cauterization the next time I hit the dentist's chair.

And so, for the past twelve months, I've been a flossing machine. I floss every single night before bed, even when I'm tired, even when I'm on vacation, and even when I found out we were moving back to the USA and I knew I'd never see that friendly, devilish hygienist again. In fact, if you can believe this, I made a dentist appointment for the week before we moved just so I could display my sparkling gums to her. Of course in fine German style, when I announced I'd been flossing she said, "Oh this is fine, but your retainer is still a difficulty." Whatever.

Now the point to this story wasn't to give you a far-too-detailed account of what's inside my mouth (but aren't you lucky? you got one anyway). It's to tell you that old dogs can learn new tricks! Really we can! Because I am still flossing, and I realized last week that I've started LOOKING FORWARD to how my teeth feel after I've flossed, in the same way I used to look forward to brushing them. Now, that minty freshness just isn't complete until I've yanked a piece of Teflon-coated string between my teeth. Just think of what this means. I might one day learn to make my bed every morning! I could start washing the car once a week! I could get up an hour earlier and do yoga!

But since none of that is likely to happen, I'm just looking forward to my next dentist appointment where there will be no lies or evasion or, if I'm lucky, blood on the ceiling.

7 comments:

Jenn said...

I have one of those retainers too and it is really a pain. An electric toothbrush (I use Oral B) has really, really helped my dentist appointments.

Courtenay said...

I can so identify with this post. After years of 'lazy habits' I am of the floss-converted. I am also a born-again Listerine believer. If I think back 2 years ago it was the phrase: 'early stages of peridontal disease' that scared me straight.

Katie said...

Get this woman a cape! You're MY HERO!

Hazel's mom said...

Flossing regularly is the ONLY New Year's resolution I have ever been able to keep - about six years now. I can't believe my teeth have to last another 40 years. There should be a second set of adult teeth that come in, but I know two missing front teeth are only cute on a six-year-old.

Tammy B said...

That's awesome. My yoga teacher always uses flossing your teeth as an analogy for a daily yoga practice. Since training with him over the past several years, I have begun to floss much more often (still struggling with the daily yoga practices though :-) )

Anonymous said...

I had a similar realization ~2yr ago. The thing that turned the tide for me is the "reach flosser" It doesn't pain my fingers or slip around when I floss. It is funny the things you learn at 30-something even though you were SUPPOSED to learn them at 10!

Anonymous said...

I had a similar realization ~2yr ago. The thing that turned the tide for me is the "reach flosser" It doesn't pain my fingers or slip around when I floss. It is funny the things you learn at 30-something even though you were SUPPOSED to learn them at 10!

Kathy