When a patient of mine told me that he likes eating oranges because they help remind him to floss, I realized he was onto something.
If you’ve always struggled with making flossing a permanent habit, you might be relieved to know that there’s a very simple reason why. It has to do with the psychology of how we make habits.
To make a new habit, you need two things: a cue and a reward.
You probably brush your teeth before bed because of a cue and a reward. By the end of the day, you crave that clean minty teeth feeling on your teeth, so you’re reminded to pick up your toothbrush and brush. The cue is dirty, sticky teeth and the reward is a minty clean, slippery teeth.
The reason we crave that clean teeth feeling is thanks to an ad campaign from the early 1900s that got Americans brushing. It told people “run your tongue across your teeth. You’ll feel a film…why would you keep a dingy film on your teeth? Our toothpaste removes the film!”
But what’s the cue that gets us to floss? There isn’t one! This is exactly why so many of us struggle to make flossing a habit.
There’s a summer BBQ food that is perfect for making the psychology of habit formation work for you and protects teeth– and it’s corn on the cob.
- Corn on the cob gets stuck in your teeth and will create a cue that will remind you to floss. Corn will do the trick, or any other food you know will get stuck in your teeth and annoy you until you floss it out!
- The cue leads to the reward — that tingly clean feeling you get from flossing. Floss enough times and you’ll learn what it feels like and even start to crave it. I have patients who went from never flossing to not being able to go to bed without flossing because they learned to crave how it feels.
We make new habits with cues and rewards — not lectures or guilt trips. Making flossing a habit will protect you from heart disease, dementia, and overall inflammation in your body. But knowing isn’t the same as doing, so try this psychology hack out for yourself and let me know what your “flossing food” is in the comments below!
Mark Burhenne DDS