For whatever reason, a lot of people struggle with flossing more than with brushing their teeth. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely suggests it has to do with what's known as "reward substitution," which means after your breath is fresh from brushing you're less inclined to continue caring.
Photo by G M.
According to Ariely, our typical preference for brushing over flossing boils down to the rewards we create for ourselves:
So why do we like to brush? In large part because the toothpaste industry has cunningly convinced us that to be socially acceptable, we must be minty fresh. Preoccupied as we are with our social standing, we wake up, feel the mint deficit in our mouths and immediately brush.
In essence, this is a case of "reward substitution." The basic idea is that some actions just aren't sufficiently motivating by themselves, so we create rewards for them that aren't necessarily relevant but still get us to do what we're supposed to.
Essentially, brushing delivers the minty fresh breath we associate with a clean, healthy mouth and by the time we're done, we have all the mint we need. Flossing ends up feeling unnecessary after the brushing. It sounds a little silly coming from a behavioural economist, but the sentiment is echoed by the American Dental Association as well.
So, if you have trouble remembering or feeling motivated to floss, flossing before brushing might help you get in the habit of it easier. The good news is that it doesn't really matter if you floss before or after.
Why Are We More Inclined to Brush Than to Floss? [The Wall Street Journal]