Americans Are Gross: One in Ten Use Their Hair to Floss Their Teeth

That bagel you ate for brunch on a blind date has left an errant poppy seed stuck between your lateral and central incisors. The date is going so well, and it’s hard not to want to smile. Except, it would be too embarrassing if you did.

Because you failed to anticipate the need for dental floss on your date, you need a bit of creativity. In the restroom you try to extricate the foreign particle with a fingernail. No luck. A sticky note left behind in your pocket or handbag could be wedged between your teeth. And there’s also the dental floss Mother Nature gave you—your hair.   

People have a lot of embarrassing habits when it comes to their personal health. Those involving dental hygiene are among the cringe-worthiest. As usual, the habits of Americans don’t disappoint. Many, it seems, would prefer not to carry around a little floss or a toothbrush for emergency needs.

A new survey conducted by the marketing firm Ipsos finds 80 percent of Americans admit to using something slightly unorthodox, inappropriate or unhygienic to remove food particles from their teeth. Conducted on behalf of Waterpik and in consultation with the American Dental Association, the report—based on responses from just over 1,000 adults—identifies the items Americans most commonly use as makeshift dental implements. These include fingernails (61 percent), folded paper or cards (40 percent), cutlery (21 percent, including fork, knife, or spoon), safety pins (14 percent) and a strand of hair (7 percent).

Even worse, nearly two-thirds of people who do this know it’s not a good idea, and two in five of them admit they’ve caused some pain as a result of these hygiene practices.

The problem, also, is that many Americans don’t floss their teeth much (or in some cases, at all). According to the report, only a quarter report flossing as little as 1 to 3 times per week.

More than half surveyed say they find it too time-consuming. Many people in the survey (36 percent) had even more concerning reasons not to keep up this important dental hygiene habit such as being too cheap, lazy or forgetful. Ironically, roughly 10 percent say they don’t floss because they find it too gross. It’s unclear whether those are the same people who would prefer to grab any sharp object around to clean their teeth.

The benefits of dental floss have been called into question. A deep-dive into the subject the Associated Press last year found "little proof that flossing works." The American Dental Association still emphasizes the value of flossing, erring on the "it can't hurt, but could help" side of the argument. Studies have linked poor oral hygiene not only to dental issues but also to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even complications in pregnancy.

And no one can underestimate the value of eliminating an unsightly poppy seed when you need to. 

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