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May 16th, 2018

How Is Floss Made?

Category: dental health

Flossing daily is an important component of regular oral hygiene and dental health upkeep. Including floss in our daily routine is now considered a mandatory habit for excellent oral health. Without flossing, we leave as much as 30-40 percent of our tooth’s surfaces uncleaned!

So, how much do you know about this handy little cleaning tool? Read on to discover how floss came about and how modern floss is produced!

The History Of Floss

Anthropologists and historians have determined that even in ancient times, interdental cleaning was sought after – by the use of pointed sticks or horse hair, for example. It’s long been a natural desire to want to remove food suck between the teeth and keep our mouth clean and tidy (1, 2).

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Most sources agree that a New Orleans dentist named Dr. Levi Spear Parmly should be credited for starting the trend of advising patients to use a thin silk thread to clean between their teeth. This happened circa 1815, and the idea became a popular one. Dr. Parmly later went on to publish a book called “A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth”, in which he advocated for maintenance habits of brushing and flossing daily (1, 2).

In 1882, a company called Codman and Shurtleft Company from Massachusetts, produced and marketed an unwaxed silk dental floss for purchase.  In 1896, Johnson and Johnson jumped on board when they began offering their first dental floss. Johnson and Johnson took out a patent in 1898 for a type of floss made from the same materials doctors used at the time for silk stitches (1).

During the 1940’s, due to rising costs of silk during World War II, nylon became a replacement for silk as the main component of floss. This also improved upon silk’s tendency to shred (2).

Dental Floss In Recent Years

Since the initial introduction of dental floss products, the dental floss industry has expanded to use new materials such as Gore-Tex, and to offer various textures, flavors, and alternative options, such as floss picks (1, 2).

These improved features have made flossing easier for the consumer, depending on their needs. There are soft or spongy options for consumers with sensitive gums, and options with thicker ends for use around braces or dental equipment. And the development of single use fun flossers for kids can help children learn the importance of flossing at a young age, in a fun and easy-to-use way (3).

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How Is Floss Made?

Modern day floss is typically made out of one of two synthetic compounds: nylon or Teflon. Nylon is a synthetic polymer that results in a fiber-forming substance. Teflon is the trade name of a specific chemical polymer compound. Floss may also contain wax, flavors, or other ingredients, depending on the manufacturer and finishing options (3).

Floss From Nylon

The polymer used in making nylon flossed is prepared and poured out as a ribbon, then cut into small pellets or flakes. These pieces are blended, re-melted, and pumped through spinning machines to form filaments. As the nylon cools, these filaments solidify to form a yarn and are combined to create a strand of floss. Proper twisting during the process adds strength to the floss and reduces the chances of fraying or breakage. Because nylon floss is composed of many small filaments, it can be created in different weights, or thicknesses (3).

Floss Made With Teflon

Teflon floss comes from a specific polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This polymer is melted into a paste and then stretched into a long, thin strand. Next, the polymer is expanded into different directions.

This stretching process gives this type of floss substantial strength. The substance is cut, forming various thicknesses and weights. PTFE is a monofilament, has excellent tensile strength, and does not shred or break easily. Twisting is not required for the Teflon floss process (3).

Finishing Touches: Coating Process

The finishing touches allow for diversity in customer preference. Manufacturers differentiate their products by adding unique and proprietary coatings. The coating process takes place in emulsion baths. This bathing process allows additives such as waxes, flavors, or any other coating options to be applied in a consistent manner (3).

Product Packaging

Flosses are packaged into bobbins for easy spooling and unspooling. They can be packaged in a cylindrical shape or a roll-type shape. Winding the floss for consumer use requires equipment that transfers the yarn onto a spool.

Cylindrical bobbins are used in tube or rectangular shaped floss packages. This type of bobbin can accommodate the highest amount of yardage. The roll bobbin is more traditional and is dispensed through flat containers. Wow…pretty cool, we must say!

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Other Fun Facts About Floss

  • Floss in ribbon form is great for kids or people with larger spacing between their teeth
  • Floss in string form is helpful for people with tightly spaced or crooked teeth
  • Floss comes in a variety of wax options: lightly waxed, waxed, or un-waxed
  • Today, Americans use more than 2.5 million miles of dental floss each year (3)
  • Your toothbrush can’t reach into the fine spaces between the teeth, which is why dental floss is so important
  • Recent innovations include additives to floss that can help with whitening efforts (4)

Let Us Help You With Your Dental Health

Dental floss helps to remove plaque and bacteria from and between teeth and below the gum line. Without flossing, this plaque can turn to tartar and lead to gingivitis, infection, or cavities. Unfortunately, according to the ADA, only about 12 percent of Americans are diligent about flossing daily (2). We can help you determine your risk for complications and offer tips on flossing at your next dental appointment! Schedule today by calling (513) 251-5500 or click the Online Scheduling button on our website.

Sources:

  1. https://oralb.com/en-us/oral-health/dental-floss-history
  2. http://www.speareducation.com/spear-review/2013/01/a-brief-history-of-dental-floss
  3. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Dental-Floss.html
  4. http://www.intelligentdental.com/2011/07/20/what-is-dental-floss-made-of/

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