The History of Flossing: From the Beginning

history of flossing

If you’ve ever been to the dentist, then you probably got asked whether or not you flossed. Dentists always recommend you do this at least once a day. It’s thought that flossing is the only way you can properly clean your teeth and gums. You use dental floss to dislodge food and clear bacteria away from the sides of teeth and your gum line. It reaches places that your toothbrush can’t, and leaves your mouth a lot cleaner.

However, there have been recent reports that doubt the effectiveness of flossing. These claim that there’s not enough scientific evidence to support dentists claims about flossing. If this is the case, then why do dentists implore you to floss your teeth? To find this out, let’s take a look at the history of flossing, and how it became an accepted dental practice.

Since the dawn of man, we’ve been using things to dislodge food from our teeth. But, interestingly, the concept of dental floss has only been around for two centuries. The first mention of it came in 1819, in a book called A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth. It was written by a man named Levi Spear Parmly. In this book, he talks about something he had invented a few years before the book was published.

When you read the book, you see that he wanted to find out why we get teeth disorders. In essence, why do our teeth rot and why do we get tooth decay? He attributed it to the ‘relics of what we eat’ getting stuck in our teeth and staying there. When this happens, they can accumulate, stagnate and create bacteria. He noted that this usually happens in the interstices of the teeth, or in the indentures on their surface. In simple terms, rotting food in your mouth can cause tooth decay.

He then went on to state that regular cleaning of the teeth and gums can stop tooth decay taking place. But, only brushing your teeth didn’t get rid of the food properly, and it was left to stagnate. So, he invented some new dentistry apparatus to help with it. He used waxed silken thread to pass through the interstices of the teeth. In doing so, it removed food and bacteria from places where a brush couldn’t get to. Furthermore, he claimed that using this regularly would keep your teeth and gums healthy. And thus, dental floss was born.

Fast forward to the 1900’s, and his idea was being used in dental surgeries up and down the country. During WWII, nylon was pioneered as a new material for floss by Charles C. Bass. And, to this day, it’s what dental floss is made out of.

The whole idea of flossing stemmed from a dentist looking to solve the issue of tooth decay. People read Parmly’s book, took note of what he said, and it got passed down from generation to generation. Everyone believed that there was enough written to prove that flossing helps keep your teeth and gums healthy. It’s something that dentists still believe to this day. With the reports that there’s a lack of scientific evidence, we can expect to see more studies on this matter to prove the effects of flossing.

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