A Flossing Game (for real)

We've all endured the lecture on brushing and flossing more consistently while sitting in a dentist's chair. With one look, our dentist knows that we flossed the three days leading up to our appointment, so we could say, "Yeah, I floss." The dentist compliments us on our good habits, knowing full well that we may be stretching the truth.

It takes only 5-10 minutes per day to clean our teeth effectively, and yet a good percentage of Americans admit to brushing only once per day and flossing only on occasion.

In this article, we will give you some tips and resources to help jump start good dental habits for the whole family.

Why do we struggle with new habits?

Research suggests two reasons why we don't do things we know are good for us that are meaningful to this dialogue. The first reason is that our brains like to be efficient. Once our brain recognizes a pattern, it will keep us in that pattern, so we can devote more of our brain power to the most important task right now (like seeing if we can long jump over the sleeping dog and not wake him up).

The second reason is that we respond to short-term rewards quicker than long-term rewards. We know that consistently brushing and flossing gives us a long-term reward of better overall health, lower costs on dental care, and less tooth decay, but when you are snuggled up in your warm bed, the short-term benefit of staying cozy may override getting up to brush and floss your teeth.

Games can change your life

Let's talk about how creating a game for your dental habits can make them stick! Game theory is the study of how the elements of a game can impact us in our lives. These are four elements that make games effective and fun teaching tools.


  • Rules and limits: There are typically some limits on how players can move forward towards their goal of a win. They can't just go right to the win; they have to earn it within the rules.
  • Demonstration of progress: Games provide short-term feedback on how you are progressing toward your long-term goal. Whether that is your dwindling hand in Uno or reaching the whimsical gumdrop mountains in Candyland, we know when we are getting closer to the goal.
  • Rewards: You earn money in Monopoly and Life; you get chips in Poker; and you get coins in Mario. Rewards in games keep us engaged and increase our appetite for progress.
  • Clear win: One of the reasons we love games so much is there is a clear way to win. Our lives are full of ambiguity and uncertainty, but games offer a clear winner, and we are motivated to earn that title.


Applying gaming to brushing your teeth

We've applied the principles of games to build great dental habits. Here are four recommendations to try and add upon for your family.

1. Teeth Cleaning Race game (Download PDF). This printable game provides a simple way to get started right away. Each member of the family adopts a tooth character that progresses along a colorful track during the week. This game was created with young families in mind, but all can benefit from having a clear way to see their progress towards their goal of brushing and flossing every day.

2. Teach kids about flossing. A fun activity to do with kids is showing them what flossing does for their teeth. They can practice flossing out plaque (play dough) from teeth (upside down egg carton). This is a great way to engage them in the benefits of flossing.

Playdoh flossing game

3. Use a habit tracking app. If you prefer a digital method, there are several habit tracking mobile apps available. The best ones have elements of gaming, such as clear displays of progress and benchmarks where you receive rewards. These apps range in complexity, so read reviews to find the one that would best fit your family. We recommend Habitica because it has fantasy characters and a social aspect that enhances the habit tracking, especially for kids.
4. Rewards. We mentioned earlier how rewards make games much more fun! Whether the prize is big or small, we all love incentives. For adults, that might look like putting away $5 for each week we brush and floss every day and when we hit $20 we take ourselves to a movie. Kids are easier to please, so their rewards could look like a chore-free day, staying up a half hour later on a weekend, getting to pick an extra bedtime story, or maybe your kids are young enough that ten cents is like Shangri-La.


Benefits of great dental habits

If you aren't convinced yet of how crucial these good habits are, here are some more benefits:

  • Did you know that if you are constantly swallowing the bad bacteria in your mouth, you are at a far greater risk of heart disease?
  • You will save money on your dental care by taking care of your teeth.
  • Creating healthy habits in one area often has a ripple effect on other areas. Consistently brushing and flossing your teeth may be the catalyst that proves to yourself that you can change your habits. This may motivate you to be more physically active, choose less surgary or high-fat foods, or take time to read a book.
You are capable of change, and changing your dental habits has the potential to change much more in your life.
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