Sometimes our most routine activities have unintended benefits. See how you do on my multiple choice quiz. Which of the following is true?
I just read about research that shows:
a) standing near a microwave when re-heating coffee may help protect against skin cancer, but only if the door is shut.
b) vacuuming rugs and floors once a week using an upright style vacuum helps protect against arthritis, and in some cases, helps relieve symptoms – unless you vacuum up the aspirin you dropped. Using a cannister vacuum, however, does not confer the same benefits.
c) flossing your teeth may protect against cognitive decline.
The correct answer is c, flossing (though I’m not sure whether the other suggestions have been fully tested). Think of the plaque removal as “mental floss.” This may appear to be a trick that dentists are using to get old people, like me, to finally make a habit out of an act that was only a faint rumor when we were growing up. When you were twelve (for me, in 1955), did you really ever know anyone who flossed? Flossing, however, might be better than other ways to protect against cognitive decline. For example, it might be easier than learning Ancient Greek, mastering quantum physics, or learning how to program your television remote. I make it a point, while flossing, to practice counting backward from 100 by sevens, for I’ve learned that if I can do that, my cognitive is not declining. I am a committed Stringer.
Furthermore, we flossers know that it sometimes involves some physical dexterity, especially if you are dealing with bridges and other such dental architecture. And it just may be that nimble flossing will protect against physical decline. Soon you may be able to open jars and bottles that are “protected” by layers of plastic, cardboard, foil and/or cotton – even the most difficult ones, which usually are labeled “E-Z Open.” You may get better at picking your nose or getting your front door key into the keyhole at night. Nimble fingers might help you use tweezers to remove ticks, splinters and unwanted facial hair. Maybe even write text messages using only your thumbs. If plaque can get into your brain, it can also get into your finger joints.
What’s more, flossing improves your mental and physical discipline, which I define as rigidly and regularly doing something that you don’t like to do. You have to be careful, though, because it’s sometimes a faint line between discipline and an annoying habit. Flossing requires discipline. Making my bed in the morning requires discipline. Shining my shoes requires discipline, and I do it every five years – although the fact that Kim has to remind me may disqualify my shoe-shining as my discipline. Doing this blog is a discipline – every Thursday for six years – though my enjoyment may disqualify it as a discipline. On the other hand, it’s not always easy to come up with a subject, as today’s entry illustrates. (If Jerry Seinfeld can do a show about nothing, I can do a blog about nothing.) If you become a more disciplined person, you will find more joy and meaning in your life. Right? No? Start with regular flossing, and evaluate your life’s joy and meaning.
Anything else? Well, flossing is also said to be good for your teeth and gums.