If you had to guess, how long would you say dental floss has been around? Do you think it's a modern invention? Would you believe 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 human history! 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, that 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 your teeth thoroughly at least once per day. Sadly, studies have revealed that as few as 10% 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.

So what's the proper way to floss? Pull about 18 inches of floss from the container and wrap it gently around both your middle fingers. Using your index fingers and thumbs, curve the 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. Simply running floss between teeth is not effective. You should try to wipe as much of the surface of your teeth as possible with floss.

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