What’s the fuss over flossing?

Giraffe w Floss

UNTIL NOW, it’s been a teapot-sized tempest, bubbling on the edges of awareness, but when two corporate behemoths square off and a federal judge steps in, the issue heats quickly to full boil. Dentists across the fruited plane—and beyond—are smiling. They may even decide to renew their professional oaths.

In the blue corner is dental floss (Johnson and Johnson) and in the red corner is Listerine (Pfizer). After swishing for awhile, flossing hourly and considering briefs from dueling attorneys, the referee—Manhattan Federal District Judge Denny Chin—has ruled.

And the ruling is a mouthful. Contrary to claims on its labels, websites and TV ads, Listerine CANNOT claim to be “as effective as flossing.” Thus sayeth the judge.


   For decades, dentists have recommended regular flossing. Most of us have listened to their admonitions with “yeah-yeah, sure-sure” assurances that we’ll turn over new flossing leaves. Then, we rush back to our workaday world. Flossing, performed with such grace and ease by dental professionals, quickly is out of sight and out of mind. Sadly, only 13% of Americans heed dentists’ sermons. (Granted, most preachers would settle for this percentage.)

One hygienist figures serious flossers number in the single digits when fibs and lies are factored in. One patient, bragging that he flosses regularly, says he does so seasonally—every third month.

What about mouthwash? Well, more people ought to use more of it more often. Pfizer contends that half of the populace has periodic bouts with bad breath. Dentists, on the receiving end of exhales daily, feel the scale weighs heavily in favor of the non-users.


   Oral hygiene deserves this new spotlight; it’s been ignored too long.

We used to joke about it. “Halitosis is better than no breath at all,” we laughed. Dentists, miffed when patients grouse about spending $100 for a 20-second tooth extraction, offer well-worn responses: “I can pull it slower.”

A half-century ago, when vaunted all-female and all-male colleges shared the same river, a joke trickled down from New York State, where Vassar enrolled only females, and Colgate, only males. The punch line? “Surveys say Vassar women prefer Colgate men to tooth decay, four to one.”


   I digress—again. Perhaps the judge took his cue from the Federal Communications Commission that recently levied hefty fines with its “you can’t say that or show that” edicts.

He maintained that Listerine advertising poses a “public health risk” that could “undermine the message of dental professionals.”

Pfizer heard him loud and clear. The company sprang for $2 million to hire 4,000 workers to crisscross the United States. Their jobs? To paste over the “as effective as flossing” claims on Listerine labels in all stores. Labor Department people are smiling. For a few weeks anyway, US employment figures will be up.


   It wasn’t announced about wording on the stickers. Several possibilities come to mind, including:

“The judge owns stock in Scope” or

“Our claims remain true for denture wearers or the toothless,” or

“For heaven’s sake, use one or the other,” or

“First job I’ve had since temporary Santa,” or

Don’t expect the ultra-liberal who believes in killing NOTHING to endorse this suggestion: “Don’t use. Help rehabilitate the germs that cause bad breath.” You get the drift.


   In theory, this holds true for lawmakers. They face daunting tasks, sifting through thousands of bills en route to passing a few.

One new bill calls for setting aside one day each year to honor aviation maintenance technicians. Really, this poses no problem; just slap the new day on top of one already named for special designation.

Do we REALLY believe flags flown over the capitol in DC flutter there all day long? Of course not; the rope taking them up and down rarely stops.


   However, let’s keep oral hygiene conversations going—over backyard fences, down the block and in coffee shops. This could help reduce bad breath, improve oral hygiene and encourage dental professionals.

They’d probably stage a parade if serious flossing gets up to 15-20%.

And, at meals on “hug your dentist” day, we could promise to chew each bite 28 times, swish mouthwash and floss like we think it matters.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.Twitter: @donnewbury.


Please click the book cover image to read about the humorous and inspirational stories in Don Newbury’s When the Porch Light’s On.

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