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Floss through the ages: The weird and wonderful history of dental string

11/22/19 | Kelsey Aryn

To celebrate the launch of our newest product, we took a look at the underrated (in our humble opinion) 200-year-long history of floss.

Floss. How much do you really know about this dental care companion - other than its uncanny ability to save you from a disastrous spinach situation? This year, floss celebrates its 200th birthday. To celebrate this milestone (and the launch of our new quip Refillable Floss), we think it’s the perfect time to highlight this product’s long and varied history.

Born in The Big Easy (1819)

The invention of floss has been credited to Levi Spear Parmly[1], a New Orleans-based dentist in the early 1800s. Dr. Parmly wanted to find a way to remove pesky pieces of food a toothbrush could not reach knowing food particles lead to gum irritation or disease. In 1819, he started recommending using waxen silk thread to his patients. Dr. Parmly believed this step was the most important part of oral care, and even wrote about the art of flossing in his book, Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth.

First Sold in Stores (1882)

Floss was not widely available until 1882, when the company Codman & Shurtleff began selling unwaxed silk floss in their stores. The delay between Dr. Parmy’s invention and Codman & Shurtleff’s stocking of floss is often credited for the popularity of toothpicks for teeth cleaning at the time.

Fifteen-years after it first landed on shelves, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation secured the first-ever patent for silk dental floss.

So long, silk! (1940’s)

In the 1940s, Dr. Charles C. Bass[2] created a floss made out of nylon instead of silk. Today, nylon is still one of the most widely sourced materials used to produce floss since silk floss has a tendency to shred while nylon glides more easily across teeth.

Applying a waxed treatment on nylon floss also became an option around this time partly for comfort, but also a preference for those who have smaller gaps between their teeth as the wax makes the floss thinner and more durable. Waxed floss debuted shortly after nylon floss, and is still a popular option today.

A Household Essential (1970’s-2000’s)

Floss hit the mainstream North America in the 1970s as dentists started recommending their patients floss at least once a day, yet we have a long way to go. Studies by the American Dental Association have shown that only 16% of Americans say they floss daily[3], yet with new innovations and features, getting that squeaky-clean feeling has never felt better. Which leads us to present day...

Your New Favorite Floss (2019-Beyond)

quip Refillable Floss is here! We’re proud to be innovating and making our mark on the history of floss by redesigning and rethinking the flossing experience.

We designed our floss to be easy and enjoyable to use, with a sleek, refillable design that you’ll be proud to display on your countertop - or take with you on the go. The string is American Dental Association-accepted, and pre-marked at the dentist-recommended 18”[4], so you know exactly how much to use. Infused with natural mint flavor, waxed nylon string expands to help clean between teeth, and show you what’s already been used — so every nook and cranny gets a fresh sweep.

With a subscription, your floss will be refilled every three-months, meaning you’ll never run out. So what are you waiting for? Shop quip Refillable Floss today!

Be advised

All data and information on this site is for informational purposes only. Our advice and tips are compiled from dentists and various other professional organizations and sources but does not constitute medical advice. We make no representations to the accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or its sources. Any losses, damages, or injuries arising from the display or use of this information will not hold quip liable. All information is provided as-is, so please consult your dentist or physician before making decisions about changes to your health routine.

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