Pearly Whites, Market Price

There is no question that lobstermen are in cahoots with dental floss makers. It’s not possible to eat lobster without flossing soon thereafter. And sales of dental floss are astronomically higher since people began eating lobster.

Lobster wasn’t a popular food in the U.S. till the mid-1800s. And when was dental floss invented? The mid-1800s. Coincidence? I think not. Cahoots. Look at any lobsterman’s stock portfolio and I bet you’ll find floss futures.

A dentist in New Orleans invented the type of floss we use today. It was silk back then, but who could afford it? Before the century was out, a company now called Codman Neuro began producing floss commercially. (Note the name Codman: Cod is almost as floss-critical as lobster. Cahoots, I’m tellin’ ya.)

Eventually, the Codman company was bought out by Johnson & Johnson, who actually took out the first patent on dental floss. Obviously they saw there was money to be made. People were eating lobster and then going crazy trying to get it out from between their teeth. (It’s no small irony that a lobster’s teeth are in its stomach. We put the lobster in our stomachs and then struggle with our teeth. The lobster gets its revenge.) 

Think of all the stuff you buy and use that’s made by Johnson & Johnson. But where are they making most of their money? I imagine the real cash cows are vaccines and dental floss. Dental floss because we have this lobster habit we can’t seem to break, and vaccines because we have this Covid habit we can’t seem to break.

Flossing, however, didn’t catch on quickly. Let’s face it: It’s tedious and tiresome. As yummy as lobster may be, flossing is equally annoying. But the day came when mass media made flossing a star. The Canadian writer Sadaf Ahsan points out that flossing got its “first moment in the spotlight” in 1918, when James Joyce had Professor MacHugh, one of his Ulysses characters, do it in public: “He took a reel of dental floss from his waistcoat pocket and, breaking off a piece, twanged it smartly” between his “unwashed teeth.” Back then, you could hardly do better than a James Joyce novel to launch a new fad. Then, during World War II, someone figured out that cheap nylon floss worked just as well as expensive silk, and from that moment, the floss boom was probably inevitable. Lobstermen rejoiced.

Today, the race is on to develop new flossing markets.

The Japanese macaque, often called the “snow monkey,” and the long-tailed macaque of Southeast Asia, also known as the “crab-eating macaque,” have both been observed flossing — using feathers, in the wild, and even human hair, in captivity. When a snow monkey can’t find the seeds and plants it prefers to eat, it digs up roots. No roots available? The snow monkey’s food of last resort is fish. Meanwhile, the crab-eating macaque prefers seafood, foraging on beaches to find its favorite delicacy.

We shouldn’t be surprised: Of course a monkey that eats fish or crab needs to floss. And now that the monkeys have figured out how, it’s only a matter of time before someone introduces them to lobster — and waxed mint-flavored Glide. The lobstermen and the floss-makers will both make a killing, and the monkeys will be happier than ever.

Once the monkey market for lobster and floss is well established, I assume someone will surely step them up to the ideal companion consumables: drawn butter and martinis.


(Doug Brendel, a poster child for periodontal health, lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow the faithful flosser here at Outsidah.com.)

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