When I was growing up, dentists recommended brushing your teeth three times a day. Three times.
That was the conventional wisdom. Each time I got my teeth cleaned, the hygienist would repeat the rule like a mantra: “Be sure to brush three times a day — morning, noon and night. Be sure to brush three times a day — morning, noon and night.”
I always nodded like an obsequious sycophant. After all, when you’re strapped to a leather chair with nowhere to run, and a masked terrorist is hovering over you wielding a bloody pick, you’re apt to agree with everything they say.
For a kid, every trip to the dentist is like a scene from Marathon Man. Which is why I paid strict attention to the three-times-a-day dictate. If brushing meant I could avoid a cavity — and hence another terrifying trip to the dentist — then I darn well was going to do it. (Albeit with chocolate-flavored toothpaste. I wasn’t a total health nut in those days.)
Like my inability to meet women, the three-times-a-day rule has stuck with me for all these years. So you can imagine my surprise — indeed, my absolute shock — when I last visited the dentist, and they recommended brushing my teeth only twice daily.
“What?” I screamed. (And this was with a pick, an electric drill and a saliva-sucker all shoved in my mouth. The hygienist had to snatch a paper towel to wipe the mess off her glasses.)
“All I said was that you need to brush at least twice a day,” she said.
And before I could question her further on the matter, she poked a mirror into my mouth, to accompany all the other ominous implements of torture.
My research verified that the hygienist was right: the twice-a-day rule is the norm, now. Four out of five dentists agree.
So that begs the obvious question: What in the hell happened to the third daily recommended brushing?
Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe the dental establishment has given up on us entirely. Maybe they got so tired of admonishing us for not brushing enough that they collectively said, “Screw these people! If they’re too lazy to pick up a toothbrush, then they deserve a mouth full of cavities. Who cares if all their teeth rot and fall out? We’ll see how smug they are when they have to subsist on a diet of Jello and baby food. When they come crawling back to us, bawling because their gums are all inflamed and pus-filled, we’ll laugh manically and give them a sugary lollipop to suck on.”
But then again, I’m not so sure. Something’s amiss. You don’t just simply lose a daily recommended brushing unless there’s a sinister plot afoot. Call me crazy, but I smell a conspiracy. (Surprisingly, it has sort of a minty-fresh scent.)
Maybe too many people were taking the advice of their dentists and brushing three times a day. If true, that would mean the dental health of the general population was way above average.
Which would present a huge problem: If everyone has healthy teeth, dentists can’t make any money.
After all, dentists can’t get by if they perform cleanings alone. Their overhead is much too high — especially when you factor in such necessities as an office, staff, equipment and membership to a luxury country club.
No, the real money comes from more complicated procedures, such as root canals and dental bridges.
And if you want to perform those procedures, you need patients whose dental health is subpar.
Patients who, perhaps, don’t brush as often as they should.
Patients who — and I’m just tossing this out there — brush only two times a day, instead of three.
It makes sense. If you brush your teeth once in the morning and once at night, that’s a 12-hour span where harmful bacteria can increase their numbers tenfold (sort of like that family on 19 Kids and Counting … or however many kids it is now).
When you brush three times a day, that’s once after every meal. But if you’re brushing only twice a day, that means you’re missing a meal somewhere — most likely lunch. After all, few people have the opportunity to brush at work. (Although in today’s economy, even fewer people have the opportunity to actually work.)
So that’s an entire meal where we give oral hygiene the middle finger and play Russian roulette with our dental health. That’s bad policy — especially for those who had the spinach salad and have a staff meeting at 1 p.m.
So I don’t know. I’m not an anti-dentite by any means, but this whole twice-a-day stuff has got me suspicious. Unless toothpaste is a third more potent now than it was in the 1990s, I don’t see any reason to reduce my brushing from three times to two. It might not make my dentist’s checkbook happy, but if anybody’s going to be smiling all the way to the bank, I want it to be me.
And let assure you, those pearly-whites are going to be gleaming like diamonds from my thrice-a-day brushing.