Going to the Dentist (Part 1 of 2)

Two weeks ago The Curmudgeon went to the dentist. Usually the hygienist gets all over him about his gums – in this family, we affectionately refer to Ella as “the gum Nazi” – but this time it was the dentist herself: “You’re a little inflamed in the back. You need to do a better job of getting the floss in there.”

The Curmudgeon has heard this a lot over the years. While he may never live up to the standards of these dental professionals he’s much, much better than he used to be and is improving all the time.

But then last week…

Last week we learned that flossing may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

flossThe federal government has been recommending that we floss since 1979 and the American Dental Association has been recommending it for much longer. But when the Associated Press asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture why they recommend flossing, well, those agencies had nothing, nada, so when the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines earlier this year there was no mention at all of flossing. Federal officials also replied to the Associated Press’s original question and admitted that flossing’s effectiveness has never been proven.

The dental community was outraged, of course, even while admitting that there’s no hard evidence to support its claim that we need to floss. Just because there’s no evidence doesn’t mean flossing doesn’t help protect our dental health, they said, and that may be absolutely true, but the fact remains that no one’s really set out to figure out if flossing’s benefits are real and can be documented. Right now, though, the most the dental authorities can offer is what one dentist with the National Institutes of Health said: “It’s low risk, low cost. We know there’s a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it.”

(Which reminds The Curmudgeon of what is known as “The Wager Argument,” advanced by the philosopher Blaise Pascal, that essentially says that people should act like they believe in god and behave according to god’s laws, even if they’re not sure they believe in god, because if they die and there’s no god they will have led a good and decent life but if they don’t act like they believe and don’t lead a good life and die and then have to account for their lives to a god that actually exists then they are totally screwed. Seriously: that’s one of the things The Curmudgeon learned in philosophy class in college. It turns out Matt Damon was right in Good Will Hunting: The Curmudgeon could have saved all that money on college and instead gotten the same education for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.)

Okay, back to our story.

So you may want to reconsider your flossing practices – or lose the guilt over not flossing or not flossing enough.

As for The Curmudgeon, he’s going to keep flossing because the last thing he wants to hear from Ella when he returns in six months are the questions she asks in her heavy Russian accent whenever she’s displeased with what she’s found in his mouth:

“Do you drink coffee? Do you smoke?”

drillElla knows the answers to those questions because she’s been cleaning The Curmudgeon’s teeth for more than 20 years and has asked those questions many times. The Curmudgeon is always polite and respectful and promises to try to do better because after all, you never, ever want to give any lip to someone who operates sharp, high-speed power tools inside your mouth.

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