Who Invented Dental Floss


Do you ever get a piece of food stuck between your teeth that you just can’t get out? It gets pretty annoying, doesn’t it? Many people over time would use toothpicks or other gadgets to try to get those stuck food particles out – even fingernails were known to do the trick. The problem with these other methods was that it could lead to the introduction of germs to the mouth, could damage the teeth or gums, and you’d still be stuck with food between the teeth.

That’s why Levi Spear Parmly, who was a dentist practicing in New Orleans, knew that there had to be a better way to get teeth cleaned. He is recognized as the first dentist to recommend to his patients to utilize a flossing method to clean their teeth, utilizing a silk strand or thread to clean between their teeth after meals or when food got stuck.

It Took a Long Time For the Idea To Catch On

It was nearly 70 years later that a company began to produce silk dental floss on a commercial basis. Through word of mouth, the concept of flossing began to get more popular, so the company took a chance and produced silk floss that didn’t have any wax on it at all. This was the only kind of product that was on the market for nearly two decades until Johnson & Johnson produced a dental floss and they took out a patent for floss that was based on the same material that was used for medical stitches.

Over the next few decades, silk began to become a more expensive product. That’s when floss manufacturers began to transition away from the original material and use nylon instead. By using nylon, floss manufacturers could add wax to the strands and this led to the important development of dental tape.

What About Dental Floss Today?

With improved technology and new materials, like Gore-Tex, entering the flossing industry, there is a product that is suitable for nearly anyone! With floss that feels spongy, soft floss for those who have sensitive gums or pockets of gingivitis that might bleed, and even floss with ends that are stiff so that cleaning in and around braces is a lot easier, Parmly’s initial idea has developed into one of the most important components of good dental health over 200 years later.

Today there are even portable flossing units that replicate the handle and feel of a toothbrush to make the process even easier. These floss picks eliminate the mess and germs that can be produced when floss doesn’t make the trash can and they won’t pinch the hands like normal floss can do sometimes.

The next time you get something stuck in your teeth and you reach for the floss, take a moment to take Dr. Parmly. His 200 year old idea will help to end your current misery.

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