Is your Dental Floss Safe? Potential toxins found in Floss.
In keeping with our theme from last week's article, let's look now at something more specific, Dental Floss.
Flossing is an activity in which people have a wide variety of habits. Some of us do it religiously after every meal and snack, and yet some do it twice a year, when the Hygienist does it during your annual checkup! (Of course, you always tell the truth to the dentist when he asks if you floss everyday, right?) But most people fall in the middle, flossing about once or twice a day at the same time they brush their teeth. No matter where on the spectrum you fall, one thing is indisputable, that flossing between the teeth is important to your oral and overall health.
Understanding that it is important is one important thing. The other is understanding WHAT you are flossing WITH. Dental floss comes in a wide variety of types and materials. But, realistically, how often do we think about our floss and it's impact on us and the Planet? For the most part, since we don't ingest it or rub it into our bodies, we may not even give our floss a passing thought.
This article hopes to open some eyes on the world of Dental Floss and it's effect on our and the planet's health. It's materials and additives and how they can influence our bodies are amongst the few things that will be discussed. As well as the packaging and how it all stacks up and contributes to our global waste problems. We hope you get some thought provoking information in these paragraphs.
Before We Begin, A Disclaimer.
First, at no point during this article are we trying to suggest that NOT flossing is a better alternative. If you abstain from flossing, you leave food and particles between your teeth which become havens for bacteria growth that leads to decay, cavities and a world of dental problems. Not to mention the internal health consequences of ingesting all that bacteria. Even if you are using a petroleum product coated nylon string, using that is better than sacrificing your oral and overall health.
Then, there is a shockingly small amount of research on this subject. In particular, the effects of exposure to smaller concentrations of many of the substances listed herein has not been specifically studied. Many of the potential complications cited are based upon linked and known effects of those substances when used in other types of products. This is why we say that flossing with bad floss is likely as bad, or worse for you than simply not flossing.
Having made those two points, we are of the mind that taking EVERY opportunity to minimize your exposure to anything known to be, or suspected of being, toxic is a good thing, especially when there are better options available in the marketplace.
With that in mind, lets look at some potentially toxic ingredients used in Dental Floss:
You've heard of Teflon before, right? It is the same modern day wonder that coats the non-stick pans in your kitchen. It is used as a coating on many flosses to make it easier to work in and out between the teeth.
Although you are not very likely to swallow any amount of floss, there is still no guarantee that you will not be exposed to Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or PFOA (related). This can come from parts of the coating separating from the floss, or the actual fibers fraying. This is part of the reason it is a BAD idea to re-use floss.
You will find this in two ways. First, the synthetic Nylon fibers most Dental Floss is made of is derived from petroleum. Second, in many Waxed types of floss, the wax itself is petroleum derived.
Just like with Teflon coatings above, it is not impossible to rule out exposure from wax separating from the floss, or frayed threads of the floss.
The effects of petroleum specifically are understudied and a mystery. However, it is estimated that 22% of Personal Care products containing petroleum based substances are contaminated by 1,4-dioxane (and upwards of 2 dozen other contaminants).
Use of these products with infants result in an increased chance for Candidiasis (Oral Thrush) which is a common childhood problem. These products may also act as endocrine Disruptors (mimic Hormones in the body).
Nylon & Polyester
Just like a great deal of modern clothing is made from synthetic fibers, so too is Dental Floss. Nylon and Polyester threads are synthetic, petroleum based materials that are formed into threads and woven together to form the string of floss.
Small pieces of the material can break off, or separate from the main string and end up being swallowed. There are also the possibility of the fraying of a piece and some of the filaments becoming separated that way.
At their basic level, Nylon and Polyester (as well as other petroleum based synthetics) are plastics. Plastics pose several threats, not only to our health, but to the environment as well.
First, in our bodies, these particles are not digested and accumulate where they possibly give off toxic substances as they degrade.
In the environment, they can wreak havoc with ecosystems and the life within. Plastics do not bio-degrade, they only decompose to become smaller and smaller versions of themselves that persist in the environment for years and decades to come. They become what is known as Micro-Plastics which contaminate the water supplies and oceans of the world, eventually finding their way into the food chain and ultimately, back to humans. The production of these materials also has a toll for the environment.
Fragrant floss I don't understand, but Flavored floss is commonplace. In fact, the same synthetic chemicals may be used to give the floss a refreshing smell as well as taste. The key word there is synthetic. (As is a common theme here) These synthetic fragrances and flavors are often petroleum based.
They have been linked to such maladies as Cancer, Birth Defects, Brain disease and Allergies. They frequently contain substances called phthalates, which are hormonal disruptors.
These substances are banned in many other countries. But in the U.S. there is an extensive list of "approved" fragrance chemicals. In fact, it is very difficult to determine the exact content, since all the company is required to list in the ingredients is the word "fragrance."
Now, some safer alternatives
Type of Floss - A natural material such as Silk can be used to make a perfectly good and strong Dental Floss. It has the added benefit of being naturally made (generally from silkworms) and is bio-degradable.
Wax - Floss can be waxed with Coconut Oil or Beeswax. Both are natural ingredients that biodegrade, and are non-toxic if accidentally ingested.
Scents/Flavors - There are several natural scent/flavor chemicals which can replace synthetics. Essential Oils are one (basically the extracted oil from a plant or mineral source) that has gained notoriety lately, especially for their health properties. Newer to the scene are the Terpene compounds. These are chemical compounds that give plants their own distinct smell profile, and can be extracted and separated in the same way Cannabinoids are to make CBD products. No matter the source of the scent/flavor agent, make sure it is derived from a natural source.
Water Picks - Say you don't enjoy flossing at all and are seeking an alternative. Then a high pressure "Water-Pick" device might be an answer. Using high pressure water, it penetrates between the teeth and gums to dislodge and wash away food particles. Make sure you are purchasing the version which uses water only, as there are lesser capable and cheaper versions that use a mixture of water and air,
Floss sticks - If you don't enjoy wrapping your floss around your fingers, you can use a "floss stick" to hold it, and it may even make getting between your teeth easier. Try to find a reusable one and pair it with a natural, silk floss. Some brands produce small, single-use floss sticks, but these are single-use and contribute to the plastic waste problem in the world.
Some Things to Consider
NEVER, NEVER re-use floss (of any kind). Re-use is not only unsanitary, it increases the chance of causing threads nd material to separate from the string and potentially be ingested.
When given the choice between using "bad" floss and not flossing, use the "bad" floss. Not flossing will cause measurably more harm to your teeth and health than carefully flossing with a Teflon coated Nylon piece of floss. It's not preferable, obviously, but given the choice, actually flossing prevents the most measurable and proven problems.
In the fight between waxed and unwaxed floss, it's a tie. Both has it's advantages, so you should pick the one you are most comfortable with. Of course, if you pick waxed, you should look for one coated in natural materials (such as Coconut Oil or Beeswax).
Brushing alone, or only using Mouthwash/Rinse IS NOT a substitute for flossing, as both may fail to clean the spaces between the teeth. By the same token, using a toothpick alone is not a valid replacement for flossing. You should use a pick to dislodge food particles and debris between flossing sessions.
In a nutshell, many popular and cheap Dental Floss use potentially toxic ingredients. You should scrutinize your choices to minimize your exposure to these substances. Teflon and petroleum based products have potential health consequences. Nylon and polyester floss, while not totally understood to be hazardous to your health, are a poor environmental choice. Just think of the yardage of floss you discard yearly!
Natural materials are always the better choice over synthetics when it comes to our and our planet's health.
"What do you think? Please tell us below!"
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, some of the linked examples used in the article above link to products for sale in our webstore.
Is Your Floss Toxic? How to Find and Use Safe Dental Floss; by Mark Burhenne, DDS, Upd. July 15, 2020
Is Dental Floss Really Toxic? Here's What to Know About That New Study; By Amanda MacMillan, January 09, 2019
Some dental floss may expose people to harmful chemicals; Harvard (T.H. Chan) School of Public Health (website)
Does Oral-B Glide or other dental floss contain toxic chemicals called PFAS? Are there PFAS-free alternatives?; Reviewed and edited by Tod Cooperman, M.D, Upd. August 13, 2020
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