Two centuries have passed since floss was introduced by practicing dental professionals, yet many of us still hate to floss. According to Dr. Scott Swank, curator of the Dr. Samuel D Harris National Museum of Dentistry, “there was an expectation and acceptance that rotting molars were the norm and would eventually fall out.” It was Levi Spear Parmly, a pioneer dentist from Louisiana, who first urged his patients to use a clean, silk thread to clean between their teeth. In 1819, he even published a book about it titled “A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth.”
With the advent of the Victorian age, toothpicks were all the rage, and it was customary for a gentleman to carry an elaborate, ornate case with a gold toothpick for that after-dinner “cleaning.” At that time, the use of floss was not common since the silk thread came in cumbersome spools that needed to be cut with a knife into the appropriate lengths and placing your fingers in your mouth was still looked down upon in polite society, even if one did it in private quarters!
It wasn’t until 1882 that dental floss was commercially manufactured and called unwaxed silk floss by Codman and Shurtleft. Shurtleft even patented the first dispenser which was a bobbin of thread with a U-shaped prong sticking out of its side. Fourteen years later, enter Johnson & Johnson, who brought their own unique brand of silk dental floss to consumers. When the U.S. entered World War II, the supply of silk was cut off and it opened the door to nylon dental floss, which is still used today.
Nowadays with gum disease near epidemic levels, dental floss is even available in different flavors. Consider the marketing of Breakfast floss, which comes in coffee, waffle and bacon flavors. In an attempt to make flossing a fun activity, inventors have given us tooth-shaped dispensers and even cinnamon-flavored floss. Some of the best floss available today is even made out of high tech materials such as Gore-Tex.
While interdental cleaning can be traced back to ancient times, nothing works as well as dental floss for combating gum disease or cavities between our teeth. With the growing number of available flavors, holders, materials and variations such as disposable Y-shaped floss holders (Oral B Glide Pro-Health Floss Picks –my personal favorite!) to interdental brushes a mere .45mm in thickness, consumers have an almost unlimited selection of devices available to prevent the majority of dental and oral pathologies.
Thank you for your time!
Dr. Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
26206 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 303
Southfield, MI 48034