Secrets of Grade School Hygiene

A few days ago I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been having trouble flossing between my lower left molars and asked the hygienist to try to find and remove the obstruction. Thankfully, she was able to clear the area without invoking the dread whine of a 10,000rpm grinder. It was while she had her hands jammed deep inside my mouth, yanking industrial floss back and forth through my teeth, that I had a flashback of a McGuyver-esque substitute for dental floss that I discovered back in junior high. I decided that if I made it out of the chair alive I would share a few of my secrets of grade school hygiene with the world.

Creativity abounded in school… very few of us had disposable income so we had alternate solutions to life’s little problems. Have a cold? No tissues? No problem. Just take a piece of notebook paper and crumple it up about 40 times, breaking down the stiffness. Pretty soon you’ll have the high school equivalent of a Kleenex tissue.

So there I was, back in junior high, walking down the hall with something jammed firmly between my teeth. I was frustrated that I couldn’t seem to remove the jam using the standard tools of an 8th grader: lined notebook paper, spiral notebook wire, a snazzy mechanical pencil and pocket change. I could have gone to our school store to look for a toothpick but the school store was a broom closet specializing in novelty erasers molded to look like race cars, book covers imprinted with the school name, pencils emblazoned with the school mascot and an annoying kid named Kyle empowered to make change for five dollars. I didn’t like the school book store.

Nothing that I had with me at school would work as floss. Folded sheets of notebook paper tear too easily and mechanical pencil leads shatter the moment you apply the slightest pressure to them (ever try writing with those things?). The spiral wire in my Indiana Jones notebook was as thick as baling wire and I despise the flavor of pocket change, so both of those options were out of the question. I was growing more and more desperate. By the time that PE class rolled around I grudgingly stripped down to a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers, knowing full well that I’d have nothing at all to use to pick at the debris clogging my dental happiness.

So I sat in the bleachers picking at my teeth waiting for square dance classes to begin… totally true, just don’t even ask. Suffice to say that to this day I recall the intricate stutter-step to the Salty Dog Rag in the event there’s an emergency Salty Dog Rag Alert.


As I sat in the bleachers dreading an afternoon of the Virginia Reel with gunk in my teeth I was struck by a revelation! Reaching down toward my ankle I peeled the top of one of my tube socks back, exposing the elastic fibers that encircled that ground-hugging garment. I carefully picked one of those springy strands loose and pulled it out until it was free of the sock altogether. Within seconds I had a strong, viable length of fibrous material suitable for dragging through my teeth. In short order I had eliminated the offending food and positioned myself for the Grade School Hygiene Hall of Fame. Who knew that sock threads would make such terrific emergency dental floss? Remember my discovery the next time you’re in a dental pinch… feel free to think of me as you drag nasty crap out from between your teeth, I’d have wanted it that way.

Postscript: By the time that I graduated the 8th grade none of my socks would stay up on their own. They were like dish rags tied around my ankles. But I sure had clean teeth!

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