“Do you floss regularly?”

Oh, the shame.

That’s what they’re aiming to fill you with every time you go to the dentist, you know. I think they love making their patients squirm.

So, my insurance is running out pretty soon, and I realized that I really needed to get some long-needed work done before it turned into something much worse and cost me an arm and a leg.

But before I go on, confession session time.

I have never been a daily flosser. I brush twice a day. I use Listerine almost every night. But flossing… I’ve never developed the habit.

And I knew the question was coming. It always does. The hygienist stopped what she was doing, furrowed her brow, squinted her eyes, and looked into the depths of my soul.

“Do you floss regularly?”

Now, in the past, I always squirmed when the question was asked. I always gave them what they wanted. I always felt smaller than a smear on a toilet seat and twice as filthy. And, I would always squeak out something pathetic like, “I’ll do better from now on, please don’t hate me.”

But this time, I decided to play the game back.

“Do you floss regularly?”

“Nope!” I said, showing my smile bigger than ever. I just looked at her. Smiling. Smiling. Still smiling.

She looked back at me, obviously confused about my high spirits. “That’s why your gums are bleeding when I floss them.”

“Hmmm…” I said. And then I smiled at her again.

She so desperately wanted me to feel shame. I could tell. She knew how to respond to shame. Shame was her comfort zone. She didn’t know how to respond to a lack of it.

“Well…” she said, pausing in discomfort, “why don’t you floss?”

“I’m just too lazy!”

Awkward… silence…

For her, anyway. I was enjoying myself. Cause I’m a butt like that sometimes.

“Oh… well… you should floss every time you brush.” She said it like I was gonna smack her or something. I just kept on smiling.

“Yeah, I know I should. I just don’t.”

Blank. Stare.


I interrupted her. She was obviously uncomfortable, so I thought I’d lighten the mood. “Here’s the thing. Every time I leave the dentist, I’m always so GUNG HO about never missing a flossing again. I always plan to floss twelve times a day for the rest of my life, and I make all sorts of promises to the dentist about how less disgusting I’ll be next time I come in! And then I floss like twice and then I don’t floss again until three days before my next appointment to try and trick you. But dang, you guys never believe it!”

A giggle. “No, we always know.”

“So yeah. That’s my story. Honesty’s my new game.” I said it like some cool cat from a 50’s movie.

“So are you going to start flossing?” What the? Was she trying to take the upper hand again?


“You really need to floss. All the cavities you’ve ever had, they’re called flossing cavities. You get them cause you don’t floss.”


“All the bad stuff that’s ever happened to you in your whole life… it’s cause you don’t floss.”


“Your marriages failing? Cause you don’t floss. When you’ve gotten the flu? It’s cause you don’t floss. When a meteor comes down and hits you? It’ll be cause you don’t floss.”

Okay, the last few I made up.

But what she said about the cavities, well, nobody’s ever told me that before. And sometimes obvious things (for some reason) still need to be told. At least to me.

“So are you going to start flossing?” She really wanted to close this sale.

I suddenly was filled with so much… shame.

“Yes.” I squeaked.

Only this time… for some reason, I felt like I meant it.

And after I left the dentist, and had signed my soul on the dotted flossing line, I went to the store and bought all sorts of fancy floss and toothpaste.

And the first night, I flossed. And the second night, I flossed. And the third. And the fourth. And you know what? Turns out there’s some gross stuff that gets stuck between your teeth… all… the… time.

It’s been two weeks, and I’m proud to say I’ve so far been a perfect flosser. I’m probably still a few weeks away from making it a real habit. Hopefully I’ll get there.

Damn those dentists and hygienists. They know the shame game, they know how to play it, and they do it because it works. Eventually… it works. Or your teeth fall out. One or the other.

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

PS. Would love your comments today! Are you a perfect flosser? Or am I the only one who has struggled with it? If you are now and weren’t before, what finally got you to do it?