The Reason You Should Floss Before Brushing

For some reason, many people struggle with flossing more than brushing their teeth. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely suggests this is due to so-called “reward substitution,” which means that once your breath is refreshed from brushing your teeth, you’re less likely to continue caring.

According to Ariely, our typical preference for flossing our teeth comes down to the rewards we create for ourselves:

So why do we love brushing our teeth? Largely because the toothpaste industry has slyly convinced us that in order to be socially acceptable, we must be minty fresh. Concerned about our social status, we wake up, feel the lack of peppermint in our mouth and immediately brush our teeth.

In essence, this is a case of “reward swap”. The basic idea is that some actions are not motivating enough by themselves, so we create rewards for them that are not necessarily relevant, but still force us to do what we should.

Basically, brushing your teeth gives you the minty fresh breath we associate with a clean, healthy mouth, and by the time we’re done, we’ll have all the mint we need. After brushing your teeth, it seems like there is no need to brush your teeth. This sounds a little silly on the part of a behaviorist economist, but the American Dental Association also shares this opinion.

So, if you have memory problems or are motivated to floss, flossing before brushing can help you get used to it more easily. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter if you floss before or after .

Why are we more likely to brush our teeth than floss? | Wall Street Magazine


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