You should floss! (or should you… ?)


If you are like me, this conversation has played out exactly the same way every 6 months for as long as you can remember:

Dental Hygienist: Are you flossing?
Me: Uh … probably not as much as I should
Hygienist: Well .. how often?
Me: Uhhh ..  once or twice
Hygienist: Per week?
Hygienist: You really need to floss!
Me: Starting today, every day ma’am!

And then you/I go home, floss that night and never again until the next appointment. When I was younger there was some measure of guilt associated with this. But now that I am old enough to rationalize myself into or out of about anything (as Nic points out), I’m free of my guilt fetters.

Why floss: Because there’s a chance that not flossing can lead to expensive and painful surgery down the road. But it certainly won’t kill you (will it?).

Why not floss: Because it costs money, takes time and may not end up actually preventing aforementioned painful/costly surgery.


Why not floss:

$3 container of floss x replacement every 4 months x 50 years of flossing life until surgery = $450

3 minutes per day * 50 years of flossing * $20 per hour (approx average wage in US) = $18, 250

Total cost of flossing = $18,700

Why floss:

Cost of surgery / recovery – Who knows? Let’s call it $10,000.

Painfulness of surgery – Let’s call it 50% of the dollar cost = $5000 (you’d endure the pain of surgery for 5 grand, right?)

Chances of surgery coming to pass –

Chance you  live until age of surgery (let’s call it 60 years) = 85%
Chance that you need the surgery if you live to 60  = don’t know .. let’s call it 50%

($ Cost + Pain) * Probability =$6,375 cost of not flossing

The weigh-in

Expected cost of flossing = $18, 700
Expected cost of not flossing = $6,375

No need to even bring PVs into this… QED

Flossing. Consider yourself rationalized out of my life. Feel free to bring this printout to the dentist next time he/she gives you shit.


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3 Responses to “You should floss! (or should you… ?)”

  1. Nic Says:

    Finally, a post I feel compelled to respond to. 🙂

    I totally empathize with the flossing only immediately before/after going to the dentist. I always promise myself I will, and rarely follow through. For my move to Dubai, I bought a lot of toiletries to bring with me (didn’t want to be surprised by the third world amenities in this country) so now I have about 5 years worth of dental floss that I’m using at a rate that will likely last me till the apocalypse.

    You should both read “Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates” by Tom Robbins ( because it’s an excellent book, but also the author has a really interesting perspective on personal “daily maintenance” as he calls it. It actually made me think differently about all the daily activities I engage in (shaving, showering, moisturizing, etc). It made me think about those activities less as a nuisance, and more as a statement of who I am and what I find important.


  2. phil Says:

    Nic, what does flossing and moisturizing say about you?

  3. Santi Says:

    brilliant post, phil. i’m proud to be rooming with an anti-flossing sob.
    god bless you, your teeth, and the great state of north carolina

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