Mall of Georgia Dentistry's Blog

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A short history of dental floss January 28, 2013

Filed under: Dental health,Dentistry — Mall of Georgia Dentistry @ 10:34 am
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We alway encourage you to “brush and floss”, but have you ever wondered who it was who invented what we know as “dental floss” today?

Apparently it occurred early in the 19th Century:

In the early 1800s, a pioneering dentist, Levi Spear Parmly, urged patients to clean between their teeth with silk thread — a revolutionary technique that could protect the gum line and prevent tooth decay. But “people just didn’t get it,” says Dr. Scott Swank, curator of the National Museum of Dentistry. In an era during which rotting molars were the norm, he says, “people expected their teeth to fall out.”

Thankfully, for the most part, that expectation isn’t widespread anymore.  And much of the reason goes to dental floss and it’s use.  But it still had a tough time becoming the primary means of preventing tooth and gum problems (along with brushing):

The Victorians also loved their toothpicks. After dinner, a gentleman would produce a leather box, reach into its velvet-lined interior, withdraw his gold pick and begin grooming. Charles Dickens owned a toothpick inlaid with ivory and engraved with his initials; it retracted into its own handle like a tiny spyglass. Flossing might have been more effective, but how could it compete with the flash of the toothpick? Back then, silk thread came in unwieldy spools and had to be cut into lengths with a knife. Worse, using it required you to put your fingers into your mouth.

What was it that helped floss take a more dominant role?  Ease of use and the recognition by dentists of its worth:

In the 1870s, Asahel Shurtleff helped to civilize floss when he patented the first dispenser: a bobbin of thread with a U-shaped prong sticking out of its side. The prong worked like a tiny metal hand, guiding floss between the teeth. His invention anticipated the portable floss holders you can now buy in drugstores.

And that brings us to today and the fact that in the US alone, over 3 million miles of dental floss are purchased each year.  A tool invented by a pioneering dentist over 2 centuries ago is now one of the primary means of helping preserve teeth and prevent gum disease.

So, now, when we say “brush and floss”, you know where the “floss” came from.

Brush and floss!

Mall of Georgia Dentistry

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