The Rumor Mill on the Floss

My friends …

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This is not a picture of those people to whom I am closest. However, I do recognize a few of the faces from among my Facebook friends.

… what say we take a break from that darn old presidential campaign today? I’m sure Hillary and the loathsome beast she’s running against can get along without you and me for a day, don’t you think?

Instead, let’s talk about flossing. Yes, indeed … flossing. that thing you’re supposed to be doing after every meal. That thing you—if you’re anything like me—have spent the better part of your life putting off until sometime tomorrow.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not implying you never floss. If you’ve spent any time eating corn directly off the cob, you’ve flossed. Might take you a couple of days to get around to it, but after you’ve finally figured out you’re never going to dislodge that particularly stubborn kernel by pushing at it with your tongue, your fingernail, the toothpick that broke under the pressure and damn near pierced your lip, the corner of your business card, the key to your car, and a Phillips-head screwdriver you found in the glove box, you’ll break down and go for the floss—if you can find it.

Now if you’re offended that I am accusing you of not being the most conscientious flosser as you like to tell people you are, let me ask you this: How many rolls of floss have you bought in your lifetime? Seriously, if you were using it like you’re supposed to be using it—after every meal, remember?—you’d be going through floss like a teenage girl goes through lipstick. Like a Crohn’s sufferer goes through toilet paper. Like a neglected child goes through peanut butter and Wonderbread.

Yet can you remember ever pulling off that last length of floss on a roll? Just how old is the floss on your bathroom counter right now, anyway? It’s not the same one your mommy sent with you when you went away to college, is it?

But relax. You can stop worrying about all that.  You can stow the guilt in the bottom drawer, along with the floss. As it turns out, flossing wasn’t doing any damn good, anyway. As we’ve learned in the last two weeks—(and would have paid more attention to if not for other distractions)—somebody started looking into the years and years of research on the benefits of flossing, and discovered a big empty hole where those benefits should be. In the final analysis ” … the evidence for flossing is ‘weak, very unreliable,’ of ‘very low’ quality, and carries ‘a moderate to large potential for bias.'”

Yes, that’s right. Your dentist has been lying to you. The advantages of pulling gum-lacerating nylon string through the gaps in your teeth have been greatly over-blown. After all the fibs you’ve told him about how dutiful a flosser you are, he’s been making it up all along—probably just to see you squirm.

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It took hours to find even one picture with a dentist in it. Evidentally, the practice of dentistry has never been a favorite subject for illustrators. 

Ah, but hold on here. Might there be another angle to this great flossing debunk? I’m not claiming this actually happened, but it’s easy for me to imagine that a cabal of highly-placed dentists have decided that there is way too much dental hygiene going on.

Think about it. Those people don’t pay the bills by you and I having strong teeth and healthy gums, do they? And maintaining a dentist office these days must run a fortune! Cripes, 60 years ago, when I went to my first dentist, his office had all the charm of an AA meeting hall. The paneling looked like it had come out of somebody’s basement after a sewer line leak, and there was one picture on the wall—only one—no doubt painted for him by a patient who couldn’t pay in real money.

The magazines were 40s-vintage Popular Mechanics and 30’s-vintage National Geographic. He had one assistant who handled everything from reception duties to gum scraping, and I would swear the spit bowl had been salvaged from a demolished gas station.

Another dentist I went to not so many years later had his office up a dark flight of stairs to a two-room suite over a pet shop.

But these days, watch out! It would seem dentists are all in a competition to see who can run the plushest offices in the most high-profile locations. One guy I went to had a whole wall in his waiting room converted into a massive salt-water fish tank. Even the bathrooms had designer fixtures—light and plumbing—and the current copies of Architectural Digest were fanned out oh-so tastefully on the oh-so tasteful end tables. Whenever I went to an appointment, I felt under-dressed.

And there’s so damn many of them anymore, aren’t there? Why, with-in a half-mile radius of my home, I’ve counted four dentist establishments, and the two I’ve visited each had enough auxiliary employees to field a softball team. Receptionists, hygienists, x-ray technicians and, of course, the girl responsible for fanning out the Architectural Digests.

None of this comes cheap, my friends. Yet, at the same time the dental professional was moving from a status barely more elevated than barber to something in the plastic surgeon range, the public’s teeth were being protected by more and more preventative methods. Fluoride in the water. Enamel-enhancing toothpastes. Tartar-attacking mouth washes. Mechanized brushing tools. Waterpiks!

And, of course, more and more flossing.

All of which add up to less and less demand for all of those dentists. Is it any wonder they have had to sell insecure children on the need for retainers, and insecure adults on the need for teeth whitening?

But perhaps that still wasn’t enough for them. Is it so hard to imagine they—in their never-ending race to operate the swankiest dental joint in the best location with the most underlings—have made the decision to reverse all those years of improved hygiene? To up the cavity count rather than decrease it? To nurture tartar rather than impede it? To promote root canals rather than prevent them?

So one has to ask who’s really behind the release of this new information that flossing isn’t all it’s been cracked up to be? Ostensibly, the report was researched and released by the Associated Press, but was it really?

If my suspicions are correct, we can expect that the assault on dental hygiene has just begun. Don’t be surprised to see teeth whiteners made from pure, refined sugar appear on the shelves. And butterscotch-flavored tooth paste. Miracle-Gro mouthwashes that feed the bacteria responsible for plaque and tartar, rather than kill it. Toothbrushes made with kitten-fur bristles.

And would Dentyne gum with a P&J base be far behind?

We’ll know for sure when, instead of the receptionist offering you a sugar-free lollypop on your way out the door, she loads you up with taffy and a large Mountain Dew!

Okay, enough of flossing. I suppose we should be getting back to the battle, eh? But it was nice thinking of something else for a bit, wasn’t it? Remember the days when it wasn’t all about the struggle to keep savages out of the Presidency? Ahhhh …

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While the illustration above does not reflect directly upon the dental profession, it does have a lot to do with teeth.