Dental floss history is murky. Who invented dental floss? There were two people involved . . . But let's start at the beginning!
It sounds like a question from Trivial Pursuit, and the history of dental floss goes back quite a way. Like a lot of things, there is some dispute about who originally invented dental floss. Of course, there are financial reasons for this, as well as family pride.
While we don't know exactly who was first person to have the idea of using a thread to clean between teeth, we DO know that dental floss was first recommended and promoted in a big way by Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans. But Dr. Parmly was only working in his own community. Dental floss wasn't actually marketed to the general public until the late 1800s.
He recommended using silk floss to clean the teeth, because he believed that microbes collecting on the teeth were the cause of tooth decay. This was a new idea, and not widely accepted at first. It wasn't wholly accurate, either, as the bacteria at the gum edge between the teeth are mostly responsible for causing gum disease ("periodontal disease").
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Unfortunately, the general public didn't really take up his advice. He was years ahead of his time!
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Years later, the idea of dental floss was re-invented by Dr. Charles Bass, during the Second World War. He came up with the idea of using nylon fibers instead of silk.However, Levi Spear Parmly still counts as the inventor of dental floss. He was one of the most prominent dentists and teachers in the early eighteenth century in America AND Europe.
He published two books, and worked in London for several years. On returning to America he became the most famous dentist in the southern United States!
Dr. Parmly became very wealthy, and used his time and money to offer free dental services to children. His major contribution to dentistry was the concept that dental decay was caused by foreign material collecting on the teeth surfaces. This was before our knowledge of dental plaque!
So now when somebody asks "Who invented dental floss?", you can tell them! That's "dental floss history" in less than a minute!
Page written by dentist Dr. Richard Mitchell