History of Dental Floss: How It Came About

Aug 20, 2021 | Dental Health

History of Dental Floss: How It Came About

When it comes to a good oral hygiene routine, your toothbrush and floss play an essential role. The American Dental Association recommends that you floss your teeth at least once a day in order to help remove plaque, food, and bacteria from between your teeth. But who came up with floss? At New Leaf Rohnert Park, our team of dental professionals offers you a deeper look at the history behind floss and how it makes a difference to your oral hygiene routine.


Key Takeaways

  • Dental floss is an interdental cleaner that removes plaque, food, and bacteria from between teeth and down to the gum line.
  • Flossing is important because it reaches areas your toothbrush can’t and helps prevent cavities and gum disease.
  • Floss was invented in 1815 by dentist Levi Spear Parmly, who used waxen silk threads.
  • Floss production changed in the 20th century due to rising silk costs, leading to the development of nylon floss by Dr. Charles Bass during World War II.
  • Recent innovations in floss include flavored nylon floss, dental tape, and super floss with pre-cut segments.


What is floss?

Dental floss is an interdental cleaner designed to clean between teeth and down to the gum line, reaching areas your toothbrush can’t. Traditional dental floss is a cord of thin filaments that can easily slide between teeth. It comes in roll form with a small cutter, allowing you to create a length of floss that works for you. Over the years, floss material has changed, with many different materials and applications now available to make flossing easier and more comfortable.


What does floss do?

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day to remove plaque, residual food, and bacteria from the surface of your teeth. However, while this is beneficial and necessary, your toothbrush can’t reach everywhere in your mouth. This is where flossing can make all the difference in your oral health. The thin fibers of floss allow you to get in between your teeth and remove the plaque and bacteria before it builds up and begins to erode the enamel of your teeth or harden into calculus along the gum line that can lead to gum disease.


Young girl flossing her teeth.


How to use dental floss

The correct technique is essential when using dental floss to achieve the best results. Before flossing, always wash your hands, so you do not introduce any other bacteria into your mouth. Start with about 18 inches of floss and wind each end around your middle or index fingers. Pinch the floss between your thumbs and index fingers, giving you a one- to two-inch segment taught between your fingers. Gently guide the floss between your teeth, using a zig-zag motion. Contour the floss around each tooth in a “C” shape in order to wrap around the tooth and remove more plaque. Slide the floss up and down the surface of the tooth, including slightly below the gumline. Adjust your finger wrap between each tooth to reveal a clean segment of floss.


Is flossing important?

More than 500 bacterial species are in your mouth and in plaque. While some bacterial species are good for your mouth, others are not. When allowed to buildup on your teeth, plaque can contribute to enamel erosion as well as gum disease. While brushing your teeth removes the majority of the plaque on your teeth, the spaces between your teeth can allow for plaque buildup. Flossing is the only way you can remove plaque, food particles, and bacteria between your teeth and help to reduce the buildup that can cause cavities and gum disease.


Who invented floss?

The idea of floss that we know today started over 200 years ago in 1815 by a dentist named Levi Spear Parmly. He introduced the use of waxen silk threads and promoted its use in his book “A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth.” He believed that this new method of oral hygiene was the safest and most effective way to dislodge plaque, bacteria, and food which he considered the real source of disease.


Old books about history of floss with hourglass


How did dental floss come about?

While flossing didn’t officially come about until 1815, evidence shows it has been around for a long time. Archeologists discovered grooves in human teeth showing evidence of flossing as early as the prehistoric period. Oftentimes, horsehair was used to clean between teeth. In addition, humans are not the only ones that believe flossing is important. Long-tailed macaque monkeys in Thailand have been known to pull hair from tourists to floss with teeth, as well as using coconut fibers or twigs. Mother monkeys even teach young monkeys how to floss their teeth.


The history of floss – 19th century

After the introduction of floss in 1815 by Parmly, floss slowly began to increase in popularity. In 1882, the Codman and Shurleft Company began mass-producing unwaxed silk floss. In 1882, the first dental floss patent was granted to Johnson & Johnson


Changes in floss in the 20th century

Not much changed when it came to flossing until World War II. During the war, the cost of silk began to rise, making floss production expensive. Dr. Charles Bass, who is also known for his promotion of flossing and making it a part of a daily oral hygiene routine, developed nylon floss, greatly reducing the production cost.


Recent innovations in floss

Today, the world of floss offers unlimited choices. Waxed and unwaxed nylon floss is still the top choice, but now you can get that same floss in flavors such as mint. Dental tape is another floss option that is wider than traditional floss and is an easier option for many people without tight spots between the teeth. Super floss is precut floss that has traditional ends but a fluffy section in the middle. This thicker area makes it easier to clean large gaps between teeth or dental appliances, such as braces. In addition, floss holders are small devices with a segment of floss between two prongs. These make it much easier for children or people with limited dexterity to floss.


With so many different floss options out there, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for you. The team at New Leaf Rohnert Park is here to answer all your flossing questions, as well as help to show you the best way to floss your teeth. Visit us online today or call the office at (707) 586-1549 today and let us help you discover the best way to help keep your smile beautiful and healthy.

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Owner @ New Leaf Rohnert Park

Professional Degrees

University of California at Davis – BS in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Neurology, Physiology, Behaviors

University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, Doctorate of Dental Surgery

State University of New York at Buffalo – General Practice Residency at Erie County Medical Center

Front Office Staff On Phone Taking Appointment

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