Dental floss is a bundle of thin nylon filaments or a plastic (ePTFE or UHMWPE) ribbon used to remove food and plaque from teeth. The floss is inserted between the teeth and scraped along the teeth sides, especially close to the gums. Dental floss comes both waxed and unwaxed.
Dental floss was used by prehistoric humans. Grooves have been found in the teeth of prehistoric humans from dental floss and toothpicks (Bellis 2006).
Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans, is credited with inventing modern dental floss. He had been recommending that people should clean their teeth with silk floss since 1815 (Sanoudos and Christen 1999).
Dental floss was still unavailable to the consumer until the Codman and Shurtleft company started producing human-usable unwaxed silk floss in 1882. In 1898, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation received the first patent for dental floss. Other early brands included Red Cross, Salter Sill Co. and Brunswick.
The adoption of floss was poor before World War II. It was around this time, however, that Dr. Charles C. Bass developed nylon floss. Nylon floss was found to be better than silk because of its greater abrasion resistance and elasticity, which helped prevent the floss from shredding.
After the Second World War the importance of flossing in order to thoroughly clean the teeth was highly stressed. Nylon or shredproof Teflon ePTFE flosses are still believed to be the best materials for removing plaque from the teeth. Brushing alone is not adequate unless one flosses too.
Dentists often encourage their patients to floss to
- prevent gum disease
- prevent halitosis
The American Dental Association (ADA) advises to floss once or more per day. The Association also advises to wrap the floss around the tooth in a 'C' shape, and to wipe the tooth from under the gumline (gently) to the tip two or three times, repeated to adjacent tooth. Improper flossing may result in cavities. Studies have shown there is little difference, in cleaning ability, between cord and tape flosses; however, there can be a huge difference in comfort and ease of use with ergonomically adpated flosses. The ADA indicates that about 12 percent of Americans floss daily, 39 percent less than daily, and 49 percent not at all.