By Paul Krassner
“My dental hygienist is cute. Every time I visit, I eat a whole package of Oreo cookies while waiting in the lobby. Sometimes she has to cancel the rest of the afternoon’s appointments.”
—Comedian Steven Wright
My teeth and gums are in unbelievably terrible shape.
I grew up never knowing that candy was bad and floss was good. Even as an adult, I’m embarrassed to admit, I used a dollar bill to clean between my teeth. Instead, though, I was actually adding bacteria to my mouth, thereby giving a new, literal meaning to the concept of “dirty money.”
Once, in the men’s room at an airport, I couldn’t help but notice a man standing at a urinal a couple of urinals away from the one where I was carefully aiming my stream with my left hand onto the round marzipan-like disinfectant. But he was allowing his penis to aim itself, because he happened to be busy using both hands to floss his teeth.
He could possibly have been the only man in the world who was pissing and flossing at the same time. It was a monument to multitasking. He must have been practicing at home before he decided to go public. And of course he was proud of his manual dexterity. Maybe he even had a license plate that said PNFLOSS, although other drivers might have assumed that was his name, not his avocation.
In 1971, publisher Stewart Brand invited Ken Kesey and me to co-edit “The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog.” Our managing editor, Hassler (Ron Bevirt’s Merry Prankster name), first introduced me to the fine art of flossing.
“I began cleaning between my teeth with dental floss, and then brushing carefully after every meal for the last nine years,” he told me. “Dental floss is really important because it removes particles of food from between the teeth that can’t be dislodged by the brush. It’s this crap between the teeth that really causes decay.”
I immediately assigned him to write a piece about the process of flossing for “The Last Supplement.” After all, the “Whole Earth Catalog” was devoted to informing its readers about a variety of New Age tools. And floss was definitely a useful tool.
“Floss comes in two thicknesses: thin, called Dental Floss; and thick, called Dental Tape,” Hassler wrote. “Recently, I found Dental Floss Unwaxed. All the floss and tape I’ve used in the past were waxed. I find that I prefer the waxed because it slips in and out between my teeth cleanly without leaving any of the floss behind, which I find to be a problem with unwaxed floss. Recently, I’ve realized the importance of my teeth in the service of my habit. Munch, slurp, slobber, drool. …”
In 1987, I was a keynote speaker at the annual International Society for Humor Studies conference, held in Tempe, Ariz. I had dinner with a group of five staffers from the Russian humor magazine Krokodil at the Holiday Inn. They all ordered the specialty of the house—pork ribs—which come with these huge bibs. The editor was given a bib with the words “Miss America” on it. The art director got a bib with a big iconic “S” for Superman.
They were really getting a dose of our culture. As we walked along the salad bar, one of the Russians stopped at the corn chowder and asked me, “Is this typical American soup?” As the others gathered around, I didn’t quite know how to answer.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know,” I said. “I’m sure it’s typical somewhere in the country.” And then I remembered that multitasking man at the airport urinal. “In America, corn chowder comes with dental floss that has little pieces of corn embedded in it, so if you get hungry between meals you can floss and have a snack at the same time,” I told the Russian.
A few years before I met my wife, Nancy, she had gone to a dentist who required all new patients to take a two-session course in flossing and oral health. Only when he was satisfied that patients would be capable of caring for their teeth properly would he then make their first cleaning appointment. Nancy learned the technique, and recently a friend named her “the Floss Queen.”
We’re vegans and have just discovered an ad stating that “If you follow a vegan diet, you may opt for Eco-Dent’s GentleFloss, which uses beeswax instead of animal products.” Who knew?
The irony behind all this is that Medicare doesn’t cover any dental procedures, even though dentists emphasize how bad teeth can cause illness in other, internal parts of the body. I still regret that as a kid I would eat candy without flossing afterward. Especially a Clark Bar, which could cause a cavity and fill it simultaneously.
Paul Krassner’s latest book is an expanded and updated edition of his autobiography, “Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture.”
Illustration by Mr. Fish