About a year ago, I started flossing daily. It wasn’t that I had a dentist tell me to floss better (though that had happened previously). It was just that as I was embracing taking good care of myself, and as I was taking greater pride in my appearance, it made sense to adopt a few new, easy habits that would further my self-care goal. Flossing was one of those habits I added. It’s not that I enjoy flossing, because I don’t; but I do enjoy the feeling and appearance after flossing and brushing of having truly clean teeth. Previously, when flossing had been externally motivated by guilt trips from the dentist or my mother telling me to do it, I had felt a bit sullen about the idea. When it was me taking care of me, wanting the best life for me, the change in motivation made the healthy action much easier to undertake and continue.
My choice was cemented when my husband and I took the Real Age and Living to 100 online tests that compare your chronological age to your biological aging based on how you are taking care of yourself. I wouldn’t put some kind of infallible stock in all the minute details the tests offer, because they possess the limitations of current scientific knowledge and can’t encompass all the data about your body and life. But I think both tests have generally good guidelines for healthy living. We took the tests, and the latter one said that, despite my having already had cancer, my husband is likely to have a shorter life than I do. That shocked both of us, because Dan is the picture of health, and I’m the one who gets tripped up regularly by colds, stomach viruses, the flu, etc. One of the suggestions for increasing Dan’s lifespan was for him to floss daily; the expected increase in life expectancy for this one act was 2 years! I googled for more information on this topic and discovered that as we age, if we don’t take good care of our teeth, the tooth sockets are more likely to allow the entrance of diseases than healthy teeth are. And due to the location of our mouths, our brains are at greater risk from that disease portal than they are from diseases that enter our bodies through other routes. Who knew? So now we both floss daily. Maybe it won’t actually affect our lifespans, but it could definitely decrease our long-term dental bills, and I feel more confident smiling knowing that my teeth are getting cleaned so well, so we’ll keep it up.
I went to the dentist last week for the first time since I started flossing daily. The hygienist asked me if I had had my teeth whitened! I laughed and told her no, that I had considered it but hadn’t had it done. I think the color of my teeth is prettier than it used to be because I very, very rarely drink sodas, coffee, or things with artificial colors anymore—but I still think about getting my teeth whitened. I think a lot of us compare our teeth to the insanely white, uber-bleached ones of media personalities and to the often photo-shopped images we see, and I’m no exception. The hygienist told me that people with pinker complexions tend to have teeth that look more yellow but that mine are really pretty. Then the dental hygienist and dentist both gushed over how healthy my teeth and gums are and what a good job I’m doing at taking care of my teeth. They were so complimentary that it cracked me up, and when I left, I called my friend who recommended the dentist to tell her what they’d said. She informed me that they did not gush over her teeth like that and must have actually meant what they said. I walked home feeling good about the various measures I have undertaken to care for myself—large and small.