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Written by Alison Mooradian   
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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Floss Your Teeth

My dentist is always reminding me to floss my teeth every day. And while I know this practice helps keep my gums healthy and teeth cavity-free, I’ve often wondered if there is a more environmentally friendly way to achieve these goals.

What is floss made out of?
Dental Floss - what is floss made out of i
Dental floss is used to remove food debris and plaque caught in between teeth and gums. Conventional floss can come in string or ribbon form and can come waxed, lightly waxed, or not waxed. Ribbon floss is wider and thus is usually used on children because they have more space between their teeth. Adults usually use string floss, which is easier to get in between tightly spaced teeth. Waxed or lightly waxed floss is usually recommended for people with crowded or crooked teeth.1 

Conventional floss is most often made out of one of two materials: nylon or Teflon.2 Unfortunately, these materials both have detrimental environmental and health impacts. For instance, nylon does not break down in landfills .3 Teflon is a brand name for the synthetic chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). During Teflon manufacturing, a byproduct chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is created. While it is barely present in the final Teflon product, PFOA is burned off during the manufacturing process and enters the environment.4 PFOA unfortunately can remain in the environment and in our bodies for long periods of time; humans can also be exposed to PFOA through some foods, drinking water, household dust, and stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting. Studies have shown that exposure to PFOA increases risk of bladder, kidney, and testicular cancer.5 Lastly, the synthetic wax used to coat the floss is usually petroleum based , which means the process of obtaining it had negative environmental impacts, as well.6

There is also unfortunately a great deal of packaging involved in floss. Floss usually comes in a plastic cartridge, which is often made out of #5 plastic, making it difficult to recycle. On top of that, the plastic cartridge often comes in another cardboard/plastic casing.7

History of Flossing
According to the American Dental Association, only about 12% of Americans floss daily. However, it is an ancient practice in dental health. Researchers have found that horsehair used to be used as floss. However, the history of floss as we know it began in 1815 when American dentist Dr. Levi Spear Parmly had the idea of using silk coated in wax as floss. He later published a book, A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth, which talked about the importance of flossing. It was not until 1882 that silk floss began to be mass-produced. By the 1940s, World War II had caused the cost of silk to rise and nylon was found to shred less, so nylon replaced silk as the main material with which with floss was made.8

Flossing More Sustainably
It is worth noting that floss should not be reused. Floss can shred upon use, which means if you tried to reuse it, it would not be as effective. Additionally, the American Dental Association says that reusing floss simply transfers bacteria around your mouth, which of course does not help with the original goal of keeping your mouth healthy.9 There are, however, more eco-friendly floss options available, which can often be found at natural food stores. Some flosses are still made of nylon, but they use natural wax from plants and bees.10 Other manufacturers make floss out of silk instead of nylon or Teflon, which means the floss can biodegrade in landfills.11

water Flosser ii

Another option that steps away from actual floss entirely is an oral irrigator (also called a water flosser). This device uses a high-powered stream of water to blast the food debris out from between your teeth. The benefits of using an oral irrigator is that it has been found it be effective at removing plaque and reducing gum bleeding, it is reusable so it doesn’t produce trash, and it lasts for many years.12 Oral irrigators can be especially helpful for people with braces, for which it’s very difficult to use floss, and people with active gum disease, because it can flush out bacteria from deep pockets.13 However, these devices do use resources in the form of water and electricity (some need to be plugged into the wall and some use rechargeable batteries).14  Additionally, some researchers do not believe that an oral irrigator is as effective as floss.15 A couple of things in dental hygiene are for certain, make sure to visit your dentist regularly and brush your teeth after each meal—preferably  using all-natural toothpaste that you make yourself or buy at the store

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Last Updated ( Monday, 12 June 2017 )