We live in such a time that we are surrounded by thousands of tools created for our use. During the day, we hardly think about where they came from, how they were made, or when was floss invented. It feels like they’ve always been there. However, everything made by human hands has a history. Even dental floss! Yes, even this little key element of oral health has a history, an inventor, an idea behind it, and even more primitive versions.
Let us warn you from the beginning, we can give direct answers when it comes to the history of dentures. However, when it comes to flossing history, we may not be able to give direct answers to the questions such as when was floss invented or who invented dental floss. More precisely, the answers to these questions may be different than we think, but we will also touch on this subject. So, let’s dive into the history of dental floss.
The invention of floss
It is quite possible that people used strong strings like horse hair to clean the food residues between their teeth. Probably it wasn’t comfortable enough like silk material but at least they cared about their teeth. Before the discovery of germs, people were not aware that bacterial accumulation and plaque formation cause dental carries and similar problems. But considering that humans don’t change much, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were bothered by the corn between their teeth and thought of pulling a hair out of their horse’s bottom. Let’s hope it didn’t result in a smack.
◼ Prehistoric period: In Poland’s Stajnia Cave, a group of archaeologists led by Dr. Wioletta Nowaczewska discovered toothpick-like tool traces on Neanderthal teeth. The fossil of prehistoric humans, which dates back to the Pleistocene epoch, is estimated to be 46,000 years old.
◼ 3500 BC: Twigs and sticks, the oldest teeth-cleaning tools found by archaeologists, date back to 3500 BC. They think that Ancient Babylonians and Egyptians were using them to clean the spaces between teeth as well as the tooth surfaces.
◼ 1815: Even though people probably have been using strings to clean their teeth for a long time, in 1815, for the first time, an American dentist in New Orleans, Dr. Parmly advised his patient to clean between their teeth with a thin waxen silk thread for oral care, especially to prevent plaque and tartar buildup.
◼ 1882: Codman & Shurtleff was the first company to sell dental floss on the market. They were selling wax-free silk dental floss in their stores.
◼ 1940s: Dr. Charles C. Bass developed his method of oral cleaning called the Bass technique of toothbrushing. He also developed better flossing with nylon floss. During WWII, his nylon flosses began to be produced instead of silk ones due to rising prices.
◼ 1963: An American self-taught electrical engineer and inventor of the Kirby vacuum cleaner, Jim B. Kirby, invented the floss pick.
Today we’re using different kinds of flosses to prevent plaque accumulation, and bad breath as a key element of oral hygiene.
Yes, even floss has a history, and its inventor may be far older than you think
We may not give the name of our first ancestor who thought of using a strand of her/his hair to remove food particles stuck between teeth, and when this happened. Maybe not as famous as those who thought of using fire to cook or the one who first used tools, but we can say that she or he was pretty smart too, at least in practical terms.
However, we can trace it back to the observable, institutional history. And it leads us to Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, the dentist who first recommended his patients to use waxed silk to clean the space between teeth. After that, the name we find is Codman and Shurtleff Company, they made the first commercial floss and began to sell it in their stores. Then we can mention the American self-taught engineer and inventor who invented the floss pick.
When was floss invented?
It seems beyond our capability to observe the remains. However, archeologists can investigate the abrasions and marks on the teeth from ancient human remains and they can try to understand what they ate and what were they using to clean their teeth. As we mentioned in our timeline, they found signs of toothpick-like tool use on Neanderthal teeth. And a lot of experts believe that horse hair may be used as floss in ancient times.
On the other hand, Doctor Levi Spear Parmly’s idea of using waxed silk for interdental cleaning took its place in the history of medicine in 1815. After that, Dr. Charles C. Bass developed his idea of using nylon to make floss in the 1940s. Finally, the inventor of the Kirby vacuum cleaner, Jim B. Kirby developed the floss pick in 1963.
Where was floss invented?
The real first floss? God knows where it was invented. Maybe in a Mesopotamian farmer society or Ancient Egypt, in a Neanderthal cave in Gibraltar, or even on the branch of a tree in middle-east of Africa. However, the floss that we know is invented in the United States. The first recommendation of silk use, the first commercial floss, the first nylon floss… They are all made in the United States first.
Why was floss invented in the first place?
Doctor Parmly was a dentist ahead of his time. At that time, it was not known that bacterial accumulation was the cause of plaque formation and dental caries. He didn’t have the tools or information to prove that bacteria were the root cause of these problems. However, he believed that most dental problems could be eliminated by regular daily cleaning and were not caused by the body itself. That’s why he attached great importance to dental hygiene.
Flossing as we know it was not a method recognized by medical authorities at that time. Floss wasn’t sold and probably wasn’t practiced in most places. However, Doctor Parmly advised his patients to clean between their teeth with waxen silk threads to protect against this external, dental problem. In other words, although this was not expressed as such at that time, he invented a tool to eliminate interdental bacterial accumulation and food residues that could feed these bacteria. Thus, he went down in history as the inventor of floss.
Fun facts about floss history
While doing our research on this subject, some of the things we found surprised and fascinated us. So we thought that you might also like these:
This has been our article that answers when was floss invented. To maintain your healthy smile, make sure you follow your dentist’s recommendation. For your other dental inquiries contact us at Dentfix.
Sanoudos M, Christen AG (1999). “Levi Spear Parmly: the apostle of dental hygiene”. Journal of the History of Dentistry. 47 (1): 3–6. PMID 10686903.