A Brief History of Dental Floss

Chris Higgins

Let's talk about floss of another variety: dental.

Some web sites claim a prehistoric origin for dental floss. But in the modern era, credit goes to New Orleans dentist Levi Spear Parmly, who promulgated the notion of flossing one's teeth with silk thread in his 1819 book A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth. It took until 1882 for the first commercial floss ("unwaxed silk floss") to hit the scene, manufactured by Codman and Shurtleft. In 1896, Johnson & Johnson brought their own brand of silk dental floss to market, starting a business that continues today...albeit now with "CleanBurst" technology. (For more about early Johnson & Johnson innovations, see page 14 of the current issue of mental_floss magazine.) During World War II, the US supply of silk was cut off by the Japanese. This led to the invention of nylon dental floss (nylon was also used as a substitute for silk in parachutes), which is still a popular form of floss today.

Further reading: Our Daily Thread: Dental floss is a great underappreciated invention; how dental floss is manufactured, and tips on oral hygiene.