Dental floss is a thin filament used to remove debris caught between teeth and between teeth and gums. In 1994, Americans used more than 2.5 million miles of dental floss, the equivalent of circling the earth more than 100 times.
The use of dental floss helps to remove plaque, a sticky, gel-like substance made of bacteria that forms on teeth and between teeth, as well as on the tooth surface below the gum line. If the plaque is not removed, it hardens and is then called tartar. If tartar is allowed to accumulate, gingivitis, or an inflammation of the gums, usually accompanied by redness, swelling, and bleeding, can result. Eventually, gums begin to separate from the teeth, forming "pockets" that frequently become infected. If this goes unchecked, the bone that supports the teeth is destroyed, resulting in tooth loss. To avoid this, adults and children over age 10 are advised to floss at least once a day. Flossing disturbs bacteria, stopping it before it can create plaque and ultimately cause gum and bone disease.
Floss is available in string or ribbon form, and can be lightly waxed, waxed, or un-waxed. It is also available in several flavors such as cinnamon, mint, bubble-gum, and plain. Ribbon floss is the most effective choice when there are ample spaces between the teeth; since baby and children's teeth are widely-spaced, ribbon floss is the most common selection for children. On the other hand, when teeth have contact points, that is, when they come in contact with one another, the preferred choice is the narrower or string floss. Waxed or lightly waxed is recommended for use between crowded or crooked teeth.
Dental floss is commonly made out of one of two polymers (synthetic compounds), either nylon or Teflon. Nylon is defined as a fiber-forming substance of a long-chain synthetic polyamide. A polyamide is a compound characterized by more than one amide group; an amide is a chemical related to ammonia. Teflon is the trade name of the polymer polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. Other raw materials are the coatings, which may be wax, flavors, and various proprietary ingredients which vary with the manufacturer.
Since floss consists of many filaments, it can be produced in different "decitexes."
Two leading manufacturers have recently developed dental flosses with new types of filament. Oral-B Laboratories introduced Oral-B ULTRA FLOSS. Unlike conventional or ordinary dental floss, which has a series of straight nylon strands, ULTRA FLOSS features an ultra strong filament, containing a patented network of interlocking fibers that resists shredding and fraying. ULTRA FLOSS' woven, spongy texture also works differently than conventional floss; it stretches thin to fit easily between tight teeth spaces, then springs back to its original thickness to trap plaque in its filament. ULTRA FLOSS is soft for sensitive gums, gentler on the fingers, and pre-measured into 18-inch (46 cm) segments, the length recommended by the American Dental Association.
John O. Butler Company introduced Butler-Weave, a dental floss that acts like dental tape. This smooth, shred-resistant floss spreads out when pulled between teeth, providing more surface contact with the tooth for effective plaque removal. In addition, its thin, flat profile glides easily between tight contacts.
Foster, Malcolm S. Protecting Our Children's Teeth: A Guide to Quality Dental Care from Infancy through Age Twelve. Insight Books (a division of Plenum Publishing Corporation), 1992, pp. 186-90.
Holt, Robert Lawrence. Straight Teeth: Everything You Need to Know About Orthodontics, Including How to Avoid Costly Treatment for You and Your Children Through Preventive Care. William Morrow and Company, 1980, pp. 44, 121-35.
Siegel, Dorothy. The Encyclopedia of Health: Dental Health. Chelsea House Publishers, 1994, pp. 70, 75, 105-106.
Bedell, Thomas. "Looks: Floss, Anyone?" Men's Health, December 1991, pp. 20-21.
Sangiorgio, Maureen P. "Flossing Right: The Real Truth about the Most Underrated Tooth Saver." Prevention, June 1992, pp. 108, 135-36.
— Susan Bard Hall