Why Do We Find Flossing So Torturous?


Let’s get real: We all love to hate flossing, and most of us rarely do it. In fact, a new survey found that many of us would rather do a slew of unpleasant activities than floss. (Photo: Getty Images)

New research from the American Academy of Periodontology found that more than one-third of people would rather clean a toilet, wash a sink full of dirty dishes, wait in a long checkout line, or sit in gridlock traffic than thread a string of nylon between our teeth.

Apparently flossing turns us into liars, too: Nearly a third of those surveyed say they lie to the dentist about how often they floss.

But the majority of us don’t just say we don’t like to floss; we actually don’t do it. According to the American Dental Association, 60 percent of us don’t floss daily and 20 percent of us never floss.

It takes just a few minutes to do … so why are we so against flossing?

There are a lot of factors at play, says licensed clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, PsyD, and the biggest one is that we just don’t see the point.

“We like to be in control and see the results of our efforts paying off,” she tells Yahoo Health. “With flossing, we can’t see the immediate results and often don’t get feedback on our efforts until we are in the dentist’s chair.”

People also feel a lot of guilt when they don’t floss.  

“We don’t like feeling like failures, especially when it comes to something so seemingly easy as flossing,” says Clark. That feeling builds and can actually make us feel a little anxious, she says.

Related: 10 Foods to Avoid for Whiter Teeth

But here’s good news for antiflossers: Skipping the daily habit might not be as terrible for you as you’d think.

“I do believe that you can maintain healthy gums with only occasional flossing,” Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD, associate dean for predoctoral clinical education at the New York University College of Dentistry, tells Yahoo Health.

There’s a caveat, though. Wolff says you can get away with flossing less if you don’t have gum issues or risk factors for developing gum disease, such as diabetes.

But Antonio Moretti, DDS, director of the University of North Carolina’s graduate periodontology program tells Yahoo Health that it’s a good idea to try to floss daily anyway: “There are some benefits of flossing — there’s no question about it.”

Related: Some People Get Cavities More Than Others — Here’s Why

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just floss; you actually have to do it right. Moretti says that flossing is more complex than we’d think and that only a small percentage of people who floss daily actually do it right,  since the practice involves a bit of dexterity. “It’s hard,” he says. “I actually know dentists who can’t floss well.”

If you can’t bring yourself to floss in the conventional way or suspect that you’re not doing it correctly, Moretti recommends opting for flossers (those little plastic-handled products that contain a piece of floss) or rubber-coated toothpicks to clean those hard-to-reach places.

And if all else fails, Clark says to flat-out bribe yourself: “Adding any bit of pleasure can really help build your intrinsic willingness to floss.”

Read This Next: The Gross Truth About How Often We Actually Brush Our Teeth

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