Don’t Floss? Survey Finds People Use Safety Pins, Hair, Fingernails Instead

CHICAGO — Most dentists would agree that flossing daily is a must for optimal gum and tooth health, yet a new survey finds that few Americans heed the advice. What’s more, when it comes to prying dental debris loose, many people turn to quite unconventional objects for help — just about everything except floss.

Researchers at Waterpik, an oral health device manufacturer, commissioned a recent poll to learn more about the most commonly used “unusual items” to remove food stuck between one’s teeth, along with general attitudes toward oral hygiene.

Woman flossing
The tooth hurts: A new survey finds that just 16 percent of Americans floss every day.(Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/jganderson/)

Sixty-one percent of respondents indicated that they had used a fingernail to remove pieces of food lodged between teeth, while smaller numbers said they had used folded paper or cards (40 percent), cutlery (21 percent), safety pins (14 percent), or strands of hair (7 percent).

Interestingly, this finding came despite almost two-thirds of respondents expressing that they knew better than using foreign objects, and more than two-fifths saying that they had experienced physical pain as a result of their prying.

“It’s really easy to use clean and safe items on-the-go and at homelike string floss, dental picks and water flossers,” suggests Dr. Brittany Seymour, a professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, in a press release. “The key is finding what works best for you to stick with every day. If you’re not sure, start by looking for products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.”

Surprisingly, only about 16 percent of those surveyed indicated that they always flossed at least once a day.

Instead, more people (20 percent) say they only flossed when deemed necessary. One in every eight people do so four to five times a week, and over a quarter (28 percent) floss anywhere between one and three times weekly.

Eight percent of participants said they just don’t floss at all.

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Common reasons provided for irregular flossing habits were it being too time consuming (55 percent), painful (16 percent), or gross (9 percent).

A significant number of respondents provided another rationale, such as its expense, or their forgetfulness or laziness.

Most reported that they visited their dentist at least once every six months, but fewer admitted to telling the truth to their dentist about their flossing habits.

The researchers emphasize the value of flossing, as it not only helps remove hardy bacteria, but it can help prevent other oral issues, such as gum sensitivity and halitosis.

Conducted by Ispos in late June, the poll surveyed over 1,000 American adults. Its margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

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