The History of Floss (and Why You Still Need to Do It)

history of floss

What Happens When You Don’t Floss?

A lot of us have lied to our dentist at some point in our lives. It happens at a teeth cleaning, while your hygienist scrapes your teeth with pointy instruments and shows you the blood on your paper bib. Then she asks, “How often do you floss?” And that’s when you lie. “Every day,” you say, though in reality your teeth haven’t been flossed since the last time you came to the dentist. And your hygienist knows this, because of all the blood. Except… isn’t it really her fault you’re bleeding? I mean, she’s the one attacking your gums with tiny metal blades.Nope. When you neglect to floss, it means you’re not cleaning 40% of the surface of your teeth. This is true even if you’re a diligent brusher. As a result, plaque and tartar build up along your gum line. Your dental hygienist then has to remove the plaque, which unfortunately causes your gums to bleed. Other floss related causes of gum bleeding? Infection is a big one. A lot of people like to claim that they don’t floss because it makes their gums bleed, when in reality their gums bleed because they don’t floss. Food particles and bacteria stay between your teeth and grow into damaging infections. You should be flossing every day to remove potential causes of infection from your teeth.

Dental Floss through History

People who don’t floss also face a higher risk of cavities, tooth loss, and bad breath, in addition to the bleeding gums issue. That’s why dental physicians have been recommending floss for hundreds of years, and we even have evidence of humans using interdental cleaners before that. The remains of early humans show grooves in their teeth, which suggests that they used some kind of floss or toothpicks. Prehistoric humans likely used the hair from a horse’s tail to clean their teeth. In the early 1800s we really started to see physicians recommending dental floss to their patients.1815: A New Orleans dentist named Dr. Levi Spear Parmly is the first known physician to recommend flossing. In his book, A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth, he recommended brushing twice a day and flossing once a day—the same dental hygiene guidelines we recommend today. He told his patients to use a waxed silken thread to floss, a material readily available at the time for tailoring clothes. He rightly believed that flossing could remove food particles that toothbrushes couldn’t reach, and that these particles were the true origin of oral diseases.1882: In 1882 the Codman and Shurleft Company mass produced dental floss in the US for the first time. It was made of unwaxed silk.1898: The Johnson & Johnson Company received the first US patent for dental floss in 1898, after releasing their dental floss in 1896. Their floss was still made of silk, the same silk used for surgical sutures.
first patent dental floss
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1940s: World War II resulted in a shortage of many materials, including the silk that was used for dental floss. Then a doctor named Charles Bass had the idea to use nylon as a replacement for silk. Nylon turned out to be a better material since silk can shred. In fact, we still use nylon today. For all his work in dental health, Dr. Bass earned the nickname “father of preventative dentistry.”Today: Now we have endless options when it comes to floss. We have varieties of materials (like nylon, Teflon, and Gortex), flavors (like mint or cinnamon), and shapes (like threads tapes). We also have a selection of flossing tools that make it easy to tailor our flossing routine to our abilities and needs. Floss threaders can help people with braces, dental implants, or fixed bridges. Floss picks make it easy to keep up your flossing on the go. Other interdental tools like Waterpicks and airflossers provide alternative ways to clean between your teeth with ease.

How to Floss

To correctly floss natural teeth using traditional string floss, you’ll want to cut about 18 inches of floss from the container. You’ll hold a couple inches of floss taut between your thumbs and forefingers on each hand. You can wind all the extra floss around your middle fingers to get it out of the way too. As you slide the floss in an up-and-down motion between your teeth, don’t forget to go below the gum line—curve the floss around the base of your teeth below your gum line, but make sure you don’t accidentally make any quick cutting motions. As you move around your mouth from tooth to tooth, keep using new clean segments of your floss.

How to Floss a Dental Implant

If you have a dental implant or two, you’ll need to adjust your flossing technique just slightly. You’ll need to use a floss threader or a type of floss that has a built-in floss threader. Thread the floss between the tooth with the implant and a neighboring tooth, and then thread the flosser back through the other side of the implant. Cross the strands of floss in front of the tooth. You should be holding the floss in a loop around the neck of the implant. Clean the implant by gently tugging the strands back and forth, making sure you shift angles to clean the entire circumference of the implant.

How to Floss All-on-4

If you have an All-on-4 restoration (or any other fixed bridge with more than four implants), your prosthetic teeth look and feel as natural as possible. This means you still brush your new teeth like normal. We recommend using a medium to soft tooth brush with toothpaste. Flossing will be a little different though, since the teeth are all connected. There is no space between the teeth to floss. Instead you need to use string floss with a floss threader to get between the junction of the prosthesis and the gums. We will demonstrate this for you during your postoperative All-on-4 appointments. It is a similar to the technique described above for flossing dental implants.Feature Image Source

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