The Case For Why You Should Floss Before Brushing

The Case for Why You Should Floss Before Brushing

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]


    If you cannot manage using you hand, you buy a dental floss holder.
    I have to use a dental floss holder and it works just fine.

      Yep, especially for the back teeth. So much easier too.

    As you get older, your gums recede and the gaps between your teeth widen, increasing the amount of food which will get caught between them. I keep floss in a bag, in the bathroom, and in a drawer at the office because oh my god, fuck having bits of food caught in your teeth for hours. Drives me nuts. Flossing has become a necessity after many meals - anything with chicken or pork especially. Can't imagine not doing it. Everyone knows that the bits of meat caught in your teeth are a major contributor to bad breath, right?

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