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Flossing: Highly Recommended Since 1819

Flossing Highly Recommended Since 1819

Flossing should be part of your daily preventative care routine. Simply put, if you want great teeth, reach for the floss! But have you ever wondered how it came to be? Read on and find out.


While there is a wealth of scientific data to back it up, many believe that the first primitive form of flossing was using horse hair to dislodge material in between your teeth.

One of the earliest evidences of flossing begins in 1819. A dentist based in New Orleans, Levi Spear Parmly, started recommending that patients use waxed silk thread to clean between their teeth. He had a theory that the food and germs left between our teeth caused disease. His ideas about what causes cavities were actually quite remarkable if you consider the lack of credible knowledge about tooth health at the time.

According to the Journal of Dental History, Parmly was one of the premier dentists of his time. He published some of the first books on the subject and spread important information about how to take care of your teeth.

The New York Times explains that Parmly’s ideas weren’t received as the revolutionary ideas that they were, simply put “people just expected their teeth to fall out.”

While historical documents credit Parmly with inventing floss, the Times explains that it is Asahel M. Shurtleff who was given the first official patent for what was considered “floss” at the time.


Later, in the 1940s, Dr. Charles C. Bass created the first nylon floss, which was a much less expensive alternative to silk floss. This availability of nylon floss and Bass’ research helped the practice become more popular.

Then in 1882, flossing became more accessible when Codman and Shurtleft started mass-producing unwaxed silk floss. A few years later in 1898, Johnson & Johnson saw the potential in selling floss and patented dental floss specifically and went on to provide several types of waxed and unwaxed floss.


Flossing picks were created to helps users floss more easily, which is especially helpful for anyone with dexterity issues, like the elderly or children. They first hit the scene in 1888 and major improvements were made every few years. Here is a breakdown.

  • The first flossing picks were made in 1888 by B.T. Mason. The contraption was a string wrapped around a tooth pick.
  • In 1916, J.P. De L’eau created and patented a dental floss holder between two vertical poles.
  • In 1935 F. H. Doner created a pick that resembles the Y-shaped flossers many of us use today.
  • The f-shaped pick was first created by James B. Kirby in 1963. The official patent document explains that the design “emphasized the cleaning of interdental surfaces and curved surfaces leading to the opposing faces of two adjacent teeth.”
  • In 1972 Richard L. Wells upped the ante by giving picks a single handle configuration.
  • Things get even better when Harry Selig Katz created disposable picks.


Floss has since been improved upon over the years and many of these changes are to improve user comfort and convenience. Dental tape has a smooth glide and flossing picks are a great solution for people who like to floss on the go. Waxed and unwaxed are also personal preferences you can opt for and flavored floss is also very popular — especially among kids. Whatever product will help you keep a consistent flossing regimen is the best product. Consumers are responding to the variety of products available and sales of dental floss in the US accounted for more than 198 million dollars in 2014!


Here is a brief recap of the basics of flossing.

  • Floss once a day, preferably before you brush your teeth.
  • When using traditional floss, pull out about 18 inches and wrap the ends around your index fingers.
  • Pull the floss around the curves of your teeth and the base of your gums gently.
  • Choose the right floss for your teeth. Waxed floss tends to glide over top teeth more gently.
  • If you have a hard time flossing consistently, try a flossing pick and keep it in your car or at your desk to encourage flossing on the go.
  • If you have braces or dental implants, flossing will be a little bit more tricky, but still SO important. Talk to one of our dental experts about the best way to floss with your circumstances. Providing tips and tricks to our patients is one of the best services we can provide here at the office.


We won’t bore you with all the traditional benefits of flossing (cavity prevention, fighting gum disease) that have been drilled into your head for years. Instead, here are a few lesser-known benefits of flossing to wrap your head around.

  • Studies have suggested that poor dental health may be linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Researchers looked at the brains of those who had dementia and found that a certain gum bacteria was present in a significant number of those who had dementia and it was not present in those without dementia.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make you extra susceptible to gum disease, which means flossing during pregnancy is key. Research has shown that pregnant women are more likely to have receding or bleeding gums than non-pregnant women. And according to the Journal of Periodontology, pregnant women with periodontitis were more likely to have delivery complications like pre eclampsia, high blood pressure and low birth weight.
  • You might think that brushing is enough to thwart bad breath but flossing is just as important. Have you ever noticed that your floss doesn’t smell great after you use it? That is because it has just removed bacteria and debri from between your teeth. While brushing removes surface particles, flossing removes debris lodged in between your teeth that is just waiting to turn into plaque which can give you bad breath.

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