Flossing and Fitness: When Dan John Speaks


Flossing and fitness? Could there be two things so unrelated? Fitness is all about muscles, getting lean, running marathons, barbells, kettlebells, and treadmills. Flossing is about…. well, your teeth.

I wouldn’t have considered writing on such a topic (even though I’m a dentist) since this site is devoted to losing fat, gaining muscle, and staying healthy. But the legendary strength and conditioning coach Dan John  gave me the idea. When Dan John speaks most people in the fitness world listen closely.

Dan John has been described as one of the premier strength instructors in the world. I was reading his book  Never Let Go   (this is a great book for fitness motivation) when he caught me by surprise.

Chapter 33 is titled Secrets to Long-Term Fitness.  John gives his 10 commandments for staying fit for a lifetime. The 3rd commandment was flossing! He even recommends flossing twice a day! Dentists are ecstatic if they can get their patients to floss every other day.

You can’t floss weekly and get satisfactory results but you can probably get by with once daily.

Mr. John says he gets teased because flossing is one of his key training principles. But before laughing at him there are some important things to consider:

  • Flossing daily will save you time. Your dental visits will be quicker and fewer in number.
  • You will save a considerable amount of money. As a dentist I can guarantee you that buying dental floss and using it daily is a winning investment. You will save a considerable amount of money during your lifetime; probably thousands of dollars in dental treatment (and possibly medical care; see below).
  • You might have a healthier heart. The direct link between gum disease and heart disease is still in question. But cardiologists do acknowledge that people with poor oral health have more heart attacks. The bottom line is this: if you don’t floss daily you will have inflamed gums. As you know, inflammation anywhere in your body is not good.

Dan John goes beyond the direct health benefits of flossing and turns somewhat philosophical. He is called upon by many to design training programs with goals such as making the Olympics or winning a bodybuilding contest. He says this about flossing and fitness:

If someone asks me to design a multi-year training program that peaks with an Olympic championship or a Mr. Universe victory, but can’t set aside two minutes a day to floss, well, why are we wasting our time?

Here are some comments I’ve heard from patients about flossing and the answers I give:

1. “It hurts when I floss.” Most likely that is due to inflammation that will improve after a couple of days of flossing. If not, see your dentist. All discomfort should resolve eventually.

2. “My gums bleed when I floss.” Again, that’s because your gums are inflamed. Healthy gums don’t bleed.

3. “I can’t get the floss between my teeth.” There are different types of floss. Try one of the waxed flosses and if you still have a problem see your dentist. A defective dental restoration can be preventing your floss from slipping between two teeth.

4. “The floss shreds when I floss.” Most often this is due to a problem with previously placed dental work.

5. “I never see any food come out when I floss.” You can’t see bacteria and that’s what is being removed when flossing.

6. “I don’t have time to floss.” See Dan John’s quote above.