It seems like an impossible goal, but Stephanie Gomez is determined. “I’m trying to make flossing seem cool,” she declares.
To that end, she created the “Floss Boss” challenge, which offers flavored floss — donated by the makers of Coco Floss — and other oral hygiene giveaways to people who commit to flossing 21 days straight.
Gomez, a third-year student, tested her program at a fall community health fair in the Bronx, her hometown, and people seemed eager to give it a try. For the fair, held at the College of Mount St. Vincent, her alma mater, Gomez recruited her 14-year-old sister, who created props and dressed as the tooth fairy. Her boyfriend wore a molar costume.
Gomez says she’ll continue “Floss Boss” at other health education events, perhaps incorporating a website or some other mechanisms that will help track participants’ progress. At the fair, she handed out calendar sheets.
Like many dentists and dental students before her, Gomez realizes she’s fighting an uphill battle. According to a recent study by the Center of Disease Control, 30 percent of Americans don’t floss daily. Some of them are her patients. To convince them that flossing is worth it, she’ll sometimes show them the consequences of skipping it: a thick build up of plaque and calculus. “A lot of people don’t know what calculus is and I’ll show them and say, ‘this was all on you,”’ she describes.
While unwillingness to floss seems universal, Gomez sees a greater need for oral health education in underserved communities like the Bronx, where many residents lack reliable information about caring for teeth and gums. For immigrant parents like her own, who are from the Dominican Republic, time and money is often tight, and health insurance can be scarce, so they forgo their own medical needs in favor of taking children to doctors and dentists, Gomez says.
“My mom always put me first and didn’t always take care of herself,” says Gomez, whose been involved in community service for much of her life.
In college as a predental student, Gomez took trips to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Argentina to help out on dental missions. In high school, she devoted many hours to helping the homeless. Her work earned her a $100,000 college scholarship from McDonald’s, awarded to only four Hispanic students in the nation.