The Tiny Guide to Creating the Flossing Habit

‘Floss the teeth you want to keep.’ ~dentist, quoted by Nick Crocker

Post written by Leo Babauta.

For many years, I rarely flossed, and as a result had some not-so-pleasant dental problems. I always knew I should have been flossing, but could never make the habit stick.

Creating the habit of flossing is a recent triumph for me, and because I’ve had a bunch of people ask about flossing, I decided to share what works best.

Let’s start by saying I’m not an expert on flossing. But I do know a thing or two about creating the habit of flossing, and that’s what we’re focusing on here.

I do know that flossing can fairly quickly improve your dental health. If you haven’t been flossing, it’s likely that you have some kind of gum infection, and so flossing will cause some unpleasant (but not really painful) bleeding. That’s normal, and it will go away after a few days of flossing (at least in my experience).

Your teeth will also start to feel cleaner, which is an amazing experience. And when you go to the dentist (you should, if you aren’t regularly, trust me), you’ll get a much better report, and have much less nasty dental work to be done.

Let’s take a look at how to form the habit of flossing.

Forming the Habit

These are the steps that worked for me:

  1. Pick a trigger. For a habit to be automatic, it needs a trigger — something that is already in your daily routine. If you already brush your teeth every morning, regularly, then I suggest that as your trigger. Actually, a better trigger is going to brush your teeth — say you go into the bathroom to brush your teeth, and reach for your toothbrush … that’s your trigger. Floss right at that point, before you brush your teeth, and then brush your teeth after.
  2. Have a visual reminder. The key is to do the new habit right after the trigger, but at first you might easily forget. So have the dental floss right next to your toothbrush, where you won’t forget it. You might also put up a note next to your bathroom mirror so you can’t possibly forget.
  3. Floss just one tooth. This is an old idea, but it works well. Start your habit by just flossing one tooth. It’s so remarkably easy that you won’t be able to say it’s too hard, or you don’t have the time. It will feel a bit ridiculous, but just do it. On day two, floss two teeth. Slowly expand every 1-3 days until you’re flossing all your teeth. Sure, you won’t get the full benefit of flossing all your teeth at first, but the key is not to get the full benefit but to create a habit that lasts.
  4. Focus on the enjoyment. Many people put off flossing because it seems hard or boring or unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be. Flossing is a pleasurable activity if you allow yourself to be present, and think about how your teeth are getting cleaner and how nice that is. I love the feeling of clean teeth.
  5. Mark it on your calendar. Every day you floss, mark a big X on your calendar (Jerry Seinfeld’s secret). Try to string together a bunch of Xs, and you’re golden.

That’s really all it takes. Focus on this one habit for a few weeks to a month, and you’ll have a new flossing habit. It’s such a simple thing, but it can change yours too.