Friday, July 31, 2009

Dental floss

Dental hygienist flossing a patient's teeth during a periodic tooth cleaning.Dental floss is either a bundle of thin nylon filaments or a plastic (teflon or polyethylene) ribbon used to remove food and dental plaque from teeth. The floss is gently inserted between the teeth and scraped along the teeth sides, especially close to the gums. Dental floss may be flavored or unflavored, and waxed or unwaxed.


Dental flossLevi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans, is credited with inventing the first form of dental floss. He recommended that people should clean their teeth with silk floss in 1815.

Dental floss was still unavailable to the consumer until the Codman and Shurtleft company started producing human-usable unwaxed silk floss in 1882. In 1898, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation received the first patent for dental floss. Other early brands included Red Cross, Salter Sill Co. and Brunswick.

A character is depicted using dental floss in James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses (serialised 1918-1920) - an early mention of the practice in literary fiction.

The adoption of floss was poor before World War II. It was around this time, however, that Dr. Charles C. Bass developed nylon floss. Nylon floss was found to be better than silk because of its greater abrasion resistance and elasticity. In response to environmental concerns, dental floss made from biodegradable materials is now available.

Dentists and dental hygienists urge the daily oral hygiene regimen of toothbrushing and flossing. Nearly all Americans brush their teeth. However, the ADA indicates that only about 12 percent of Americans floss daily, 39 percent floss less than daily, and 49 percent do not floss at all.


Dental floss is commonly supplied in plastic dispensers that contain 10 to 50 meters of floss. After pulling out the desired amount, the floss is pulled against a small protected blade in the dispenser to sever it.

Dental floss is held between the fingers. The floss is guided between each tooth and under the gumline to remove particles of food stuck between teeth and dento-bacterial plaque and adhered to such dental surfaces. Ideally using a C-shape, the floss is curved around a tooth and placed under the gumline, and then moved away from the gumline, the floss scrapes the side of each tooth, and can also clean the front or back of the tooth. Gently moving the floss from below the gumline to away from the gumline removes dento-bacterial plaque attached to teeth surfaces above and below the gumline. A clean section of floss can be used to clean each tooth to avoid transmitting plaque bacteria from one tooth to another.

There are many different kinds of dental floss commonly available. The most important variable is thickness. If the floss is too thick for the space between a pair of teeth then it will be difficult or impossible to get the floss down between the teeth. On the other hand, if the floss is too thin, it may be too weak and break. Different floss will suit different mouths, and even different parts of one mouth. This is because some teeth have a smaller gap between them than others. It's possible that thicker floss does a better job of scraping bacterial plaque off teeth, given that there is space enough between the teeth to use it. When a piece of hard food is tightly wedged between the teeth, one may need to switch to thinner floss, because thick floss cannot get past the food. It is possible to split some kinds of dental floss lengthwise turning generating a pair of thinner pieces that are also weaker but sometimes useable. This is possible because some kinds of dental floss are made of many very thin strands that are not woven together but rather run more or less in parallel. This can be useful if the dental floss you have is too thick, and you do not have access to any other, for example when travelling in a foreign country.

If the urgent problem is discomfort or even pain that steadily increases for hours after the meal, due to pieces of food jammed tightly between the teeth, whether pressing on the gum tissue or not, then dental floss is safer and, more importantly, more effective than a toothpick. First work the floss down between the teeth where the pain is, until the floss has got past the food, then pull the floss back up, propelling some or all of the trapped food out from between the teeth. Repeat until you can feel that all or at least almost all of the food is out. Then rinse with water or mouthwash forcefully using the cheek muscles to drive the water or mouthwash in your mouth between the teeth repeatedly, in order to flush out any remaining fragments of food. You may wish to take this opportunity to floss between the rest of your teeth for hygiene reasons. Furthermore, you may wish to make it a habit to floss after every meal, combining the benefits of enhanced oral comfort and hygiene.

F-shaped and Y-shaped dental floss wandsSpecialized plastic wands, or floss picks, have been produced to hold the floss. These may be attached to or separate from a floss dispenser. While not pinching the finger, using a wand may be awkward and also make it difficult to floss at all the angles possible with a finger. At the same time, the enhanced reach can make flossing the back teeth easier. These types of flossers may be missing the area under the gum line that needs to be flossed.

Occasional flossing and/or improper flossing can typically lead to bleeding gums. The main cause of the bleeding is inflammation of the gingival tissue due to gingivitis.


The American Dental Association (ADA) advises to floss once or more per day before brushing your teeth; flossing prior to brushing allows for fluoride toothpaste to reach between the teeth . It should be noted that overly vigorous or incorrect flossing can result in gum tissue damage. For proper flossing, the Association advises to curve the floss against the side of the tooth in a 'C' shape, and then to wipe the tooth from under the gumline (very gently) to the tip two or three times, repeated on adjacent and subsequent teeth.

Dental floss does not clean the interproximal areas beneath the contact point, because the area is concave.


Some power flossers utilize vibration which transfers through the floss, originating from the ends. This is likely inspired by the similar use of vibration of the bristles in modern electric toothbrushes. As the vibration causes subtle movement, the floss will find the path of least resistance when pressed down. The movement would also help in temporarily separating tooth and gum for floss to get through.

This allows easier penetration under the gumline, with less force applied to push into the gap between teeth. With less force applied, more control of flossing is possible. In normal flossing, pressure may be applied until the floss 'pops' through the teeth, and the momentum can carry on and painfully impact the gum tissue. With more control, this can be reduced or avoided totally.

Many consider vibrations to be soothing; it is a common technique in massage and orthopedic devices. Much like electric toothbrushes are soothing to the teeth and gums, vibrating floss can soothe and massage the gumline.

Cuts become less likely as the floss will not press against as isolated an area, and less pressure is applied. Any abrasions to the gum would be more evenly distributed, leading to more equal adaptation of the tissue.


Flossing in combination with toothbrushing can prevent gum disease, halitosis, and dental caries.

Flossing is a better alternative to using a toothpick to remove food trapped between the teeth. A toothpick may be tried and not solve the problem leading to an incorrect conclusion that the problem was not due to trapped food. Pain caused by trapped food can sometimes not be recognized as being caused by trapped food. The pain may be hard to locate exactly, so it may seem to be coming from inside a tooth, leading to an unnecessary visit to a dentist, if flossing is not tried out first.

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