Flossing Could Be a Heart-Felt Exercise

It was on the eve of my dental appointment, just after brushing furiously to erase six months of sins, that I made the confession.

“Sometimes,” I told my husband, “I get too busy to floss.”

A military-style flosser who lines the bathroom sink with brushes and mint-flavored waxed flosses and a special mouthwash he orders online, he blanched. “It’s more important than brushing!” he said.

I turned to my usually sympathetic mother, who’s accepted the slimy pre-peeled carrots and browning salad bags that make dinners at our house a snap.

“I just don’t have time,” I explained.

“Patricia!” she said.

I have not been called Patricia since I was 9 and had my allowance docked for failing to scrub the ring out of the tub.

But the hygienist the next morning topped them both. “They’ve found a link,” she said, “between gum disease and stroke.”

Drooling, with two latex gloves in my mouth and some sort of plaque-blaster vibrating against a molar, it was hard to argue and easy to imagine the worst.

While she had a captive audience, she went on. “They’ve found that people with certain kinds of bacteria in their mouths have the thickest carotid arteries,” she said, “and that when this bacteria enters the circulatory system, it can contribute to heart disease.”

She called the bacteria “mean and vengeful” and flipped open a tooth-shaped board book. It contained the rottenest-looking pictures of a mouth I’ve seen since the ones I taped to the bathroom mirror when my boys were in high school and sneaking chewing tobacco at the gas station.

I took her comments in stride until a few days later when the New York Times took up the campaign with an article called “Flossing Can Be a String to the Heart.” The article said the same thing as the hygienist, only it quoted a professor at Columbia University.

“It’s not yet been proved,” he hedged, but hinted that using 15 or so yards of floss a day was probably not a bad idea.

It may turn out in the end that the study was funded by some dental floss manufacturer and that too much flossing actually leads to brain damage in rats, but it seems risky to ignore recommendations coming from such a high level.

“It’s one thing to be eulogized as a workaholic who had a heart attack,” I told my husband. “Quite another for your tombstone to say you didn’t floss. I’m in.”

He seemed pleased that I’d purchased an electric toothbrush with a blue-flashing charge light that matches his, along with extra heads and several styles of floss. I drew the line at the mail-order mouthwash and lugged home a huge bargain bottle of green-colored solution that promised to fight bacteria and prevent the ugly gum disease gingivitis.

“It won’t take that long,” he promised. “Not even 10 minutes a day.”

He’s probably right. But I’m still new at this, and I want to follow perfectly the illustrated “Proper Flossing Technique” instructions I found on the web.

“I’m figuring 20 minutes a day,” I told him, “just to be sure.”

“Anyone can find 20 minutes a day,” he said.

He’s absolutely right, of course. I just knocked it off my exercise routine.

Copyright Pat Snyder 2005

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend