Flossing, as we know it today, has a fascinating history that traces back to the early 19th century in the United States. Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, an American dentist, is credited with introducing the concept in 1815. He advocated the use of waxed silken thread as dental floss and later penned a book titled "A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth," stressing the importance of daily brushing and flossing.
Over the years, the material used for floss has undergone significant transformations. The journey began with unwaxed silk floss and transitioned to nylon during World War II. Today, an array of options exists, including floss made of Gore-Tex, soft floss for sensitive gums, and the advent of water flossers.
Despite the evolution of floss materials aimed at making dental care more comfortable and accessible, its widespread adoption remains a challenge. According to the American Dental Association, only four out of every 10 Americans floss daily, with 20 percent admitting to never flossing. Similarly, the Oral Health Foundation in the United Kingdom reported that less than 25 percent of adults use dental floss regularly, and one in three never floss their teeth.
In 2016, the Associated Press conducted an investigation to assess the effectiveness of flossing, considering its long-standing formal recommendation. Seeking evidence from the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, the AP submitted Freedom of Information Act requests. After scrutinizing the most rigorous research of the past decade—focusing on 25 studies comparing toothbrush use alone to the combination of toothbrushes and floss—the AP concluded that the evidence for flossing is "weak, very unreliable," of "very low" quality, and carries "a moderate to large potential for bias." This scrutiny has sparked discussions about the efficacy of flossing and the need for further research to establish its true benefits.