I’m sure your dentist has lectured you about flossing. But a US dentist Levi Spear Parmly went a step further with his patients. He is the inventor of dental floss. His invention started after he was shocked at how bad his patients’ teeth had become. He encouraged his patients to use waxen silk thread (originally used for hand sewing)  to clean between their teeth.

Inventor of dental floss

Anthropologists have found evidence that ancient people used horsehair and twigs to clean between their teeth. They used sticks made from twigs to clean their teeth and the bristles from boars became the first toothbrushes.

Dr. Parmly believed in the concept of flossing so much he published “A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth.” It recommended brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Parmly never patented his invention of dental floss. Codman and Shurtleft began selling unwaxed silk floss in their stores around 1882. But they also didn’t patent it. Johnson and Johnson received a patent for silk dental floss years later.

Innovation in dental floss

As with most inventions, dental floss improved. This happened because when World War II came along the demand for silk went up and supply went down. Imports from China and Japan were very limited. Suddenly fewer people could afford to buy silk dental floss. But in the meantime nylon had been invented. It was cheaper and more durable than silk. Dr. Charles Bass saw an opportunity to make dental floss out of nylon. He also spread the advice Dr. Parmly had preached many years ago about the value of brushing and flossing.

Another type of floss

Dental flossing took another turn in 1962 when Dr. Gerald Moyer came up with the idea for a type of water floss. It was powered by electricity and pumped a stream of water between the teeth and gums. He named it the Water Pik. It took 146 tries to get the prototype to work.

Dental floss will probably keep innovating. Who knows what’s next in the area of dental care?