Believe it or not, dental floss has probably been around for thousands of years. Researchers have discovered dental floss and toothpick grooves in the ancient teeth of prehistoric humans.

If you think about it, it makes sense. People have been getting food stuck in their teeth since the beginning of time!

It was not until the early 1800s, though, that flossing began to be recommended by a dentist. In 1819, New Orleans dentist Levi Spear Parmly published a book called A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth. He recommended that people floss with waxed silk thread “to dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove, and which is the real source of disease.”

Although historians credit Parmly with the invention of modern dental floss, the first patent for dental floss was granted in 1874 to Asahel M. Shurtleff for “An Improved Pocket Thread Carrier and Cutter” that resembled modern floss packages. Shurtleff’s company didn’t begin to provide unwaxed silk floss for home use until 1882.

Unfortunately, dental floss didn’t become popular right away. Professional dentistry was still a developing field, and silk thread was expensive.

It wasn’t until after World War II, when Dr. Charles C. Bass created nylon floss as a substitute for silk floss. Then flossing became more common.

Today, dental floss is still made of nylon, as well as other types of plastic fibers. It comes in many varieties: flavored or unflavored, waxed or unwaxed.

Many people today use specialized plastic wands, called “floss picks,” instead of traditional floss wrapped around their fingers!

The American Dental Association recommends flossing thoroughly at least once each day. Sadly, studies have revealed that only 10 percent to 40 percent of Americans floss daily.

According to dentists, flossing is a critical component of good dental health. Flossing (along with brushing) can prevent gum disease, cavities and bad breath.


6 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (3 votes, avg. 3.00 out of 5)
  1. “Believe it or not, dental floss has probably been around for thousands of years. Researchers have discovered dental floss and toothpick grooves in the ancient teeth of prehistoric humans.”

    Not true. Dental Floss does not leave grooves. Toothpicks may.


    • Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis and noting this difference, Stuart! We appreciate your contribution to this Wonder of the Day! :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Wonderopolis on Facebook
  • Wonderopolis on Pinterest
  • Print

Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented dental floss?
  • Why is it important to floss your teeth daily?
  • What’s the proper way to floss your teeth?

Wonder Gallery

flossing_shutterstock_1116218Vimeo Video

Try It Out

So how often do you floss? If you do floss daily, do you do it correctly?

The American Dental Association recommends that users curve dental floss against the side of each tooth in a C shape before gently wiping the tooth from below the gum line to the tip several times. Flossing in this way cleans teeth by removing particles of food and scrubbing away plaque stuck between teeth, where most toothbrushes can’t reach.

Simply running floss between teeth is not effective. You should try to scrub as much of the surface of your teeth as possible with floss.

Need a refresher course? To learn more about the proper technique for flossing your teeth, visit for instructions and helpful illustrations.

After you review proper flossing technique, give it a try! A stitch in time saves nine, and you never know when flossing now will lead to fewer cavities later. Ask your parents to help you.

Note to parents and caregivers: To get kids to brush their teeth and floss daily, make dental hygiene fun and easy. Make sure they have toothbrushes that are the right size and style for their ages.

Get kid-friendly floss designed specifically for small mouths and sensitive gums. Finally, set a good example and demonstrate proper brushing and flossing methods by taking care of your teeth side-by-side with your children!


Still Wondering

Regular brushing and flossing will help keep your mouth healthy, but what about the rest of your body? Visit Science NetLinks’ Physical Health lesson plan to learn about how germs are spread, the diseases they can cause and how hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs.


Wonder Categories/Tags

Wonder What’s Next?

We hope you paid attention to today’s wonder and are ready to floss. Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day may just stick to the roof of your mouth!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.