Flossing Through Time: A Dental Odyssey

Flossing Through Time A Dental Odyssey In Brisbane At Precision Dentistry
To floss or not to floss, that is the question for many ordinary folk. In fact, there are two broad camps out there in the greater realm – those that floss and those that don’t. In acknowledgement of that, this article attempts to fill in the missing gaps when it comes to the art and history of flossing as we examine “flossing through time”: not quite a dental odyssey, but designed to delineate what facts we could find. Dentists bang on about the importance of flossing all the time and so it might be constructive to delve a little deeper ‘twixt tooth and gum.

“Those regularly chided by their dentists got good news on Tuesday, as the U.S. government acknowledged something to which TIME had brought attention last year: there is little scientific evidence that flossing your teeth really makes a difference when it comes to cavities and gum disease. But if we’ve all just been wasting minutes a day on flossing—which, let’s be honest, few people actually want to do — why did we start doing that in the first place?”
– Time Magazine

Flossing: An American Dental Invention: Os Is It?

Americans, of course, like to claim credit for most things perceived to be good and flossing is no exception to this general rule. Levi Spear Parmly of New Orleans, around 1819, published a book entitled A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth. On the basis of this he is attributed as the founder of the flossing idea. In reality, human beings have been using stuff to pick out the detritus caught between teeth for eons and ages. Americans are all about selling stuff and copyrighting concepts for their commercial benefit fits squarely with this. Therefore, the development of teeth cleaning utensils and devices is a natural consequence of wishing to cash in on basic human needs and requirements. Levi Spear Parmly came up with a small kit complete with brush, silken thread, and mirror for taking care of the business of removing waste from one’s teeth and gums. Nylon replaced the silk in the flossing string during WW2 and afterwards.

Flossing In Ancient Times

Archaeological evidence from ancient times indicates that our special relationship with the horse stretched to horse hair. In particular, using horse hair to floss with. The length of mane and tail hair would lend itself to a wide variety of uses back in the day. As carnivores we frequently suffer from stringy bits of meat getting caught between our teeth. The ancient world would have been no different in this regard. The annoying strands of flesh stuck in the interstices between teeth is a universal problem for meat eaters everywhere. Chicken and pork are especially conducive to this sticky problem within the oral cavity. Using hardy strands of things like cat gut would have been used for flossing back in pre-nylon times. The desire to remove detritus from our teeth either by toothpick or via floss is a perennial and primal urge.

“A tongue scraper made of gold, silver, copper, tin, lead or iron was known to Ancient Indians. Described in the Charaka Samhita (circa 1500 – 800 BCE) numerous oral hygiene tools (sticks for brushing teeth and tongue scrapers) were included in this ancient Sanskrit work. Bad breath is also mentioned in the Talmud. One could divorce his wife if she had bad breath that could not be treated, but not the other way around.”
– History of Dentistry & Medicine

The toothpick shows up with greater prevalence in both historical and archaeological records than the kind of thread used to floss with for obvious reasons. Stuff made of tenuous material does not leave much of a trace over time. Similarly the ancients did not spend a great deal of time writing about their ablutions and hygiene practices. High falutin content was more the order of the day for those who could afford the time to write stuff down. How one wiped one’s rear end or cleaned one’s teeth was not considered worthy of chronicling in most instances.

Flossing Through Time A Dental Odyssey At Precision Dentistry In Brisbane
A Lack Of Scientific Evidence For The Effectiveness of Flossing

Apparently, the studies into flossing are inadequate and dated, according to the recent review by the US Department for Health and Human Services and Agriculture. Therefore, it is not that flossing is definitively a waste of time but rather that more rigorous research and testing into its effectiveness is required. Dental Associations in America and elsewhere remain committed to flossing and their position as enthusiastic proponents of the practice.

In a statement, external released Tuesday, the American Dental Association (ADA) vigorously defended flossing, saying it was an “essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums”.
– BBC.com

Where Did The Term ‘Floss’ Originate?

“Alternatively from French floche (“tuft of wool”), from floc, from Old French flosche (“down, velvet”), from Latin floccus (“piece of wool”), probably from Frankish *flokkō (“down, wool, flock”), from Proto-Germanic *flukkô (“down, piece of wool, flock”), from Proto-Indo-European *plewk- (“hair, fibres, tuft”).”
– Wiktionary.com

I don’t know about you but names of things influence how many people feel about them. For many, flossing has never been high on their list of favourite names of things. To floss or not, based on the name – they think not.

To Floss Or Not To Floss?

Those among us who are attracted to flossing and practice it regularly are the most determined teeth cleaners. Perhaps, it correlates with a predilection for perfection or a deep desire to be unencumbered by stuff stuck in one’s teeth. Time comes into this because detritus will eventually be dislodged via brushing and gargling. Those in a hurry want instant release from the sticky bits in their teeth. Whether the time difference involved produces more damaging plaque and bacteria is obviously a pertinent question. It is this matter which requires greater scientific testing to prove the importance of flossing to dental care over just brushing, toothpicks and mouth wash.

A Journey Into Thin Bits Of String

Hope you enjoyed flossing through time: it is indeed a dental odyssey which takes us all on a journey into the cracks of things. What do they say? The devil is always in the detail. Flossing seems to me to be one of those details. Do we believe dentists, some of whom seem to have their hands out for more moola? Do we trust the edifice which sits behind the legion of good women and men practising dentistry across the globe? It is a balancing act, of course, between impulses for good and those for unnecessary aggrandisement. Every profession has this conundrum and doctors and dentists are no exception.

Ultimately it is up to you. We recommend trying flossing for a month or two and seeing if it works for you. Experience and self-examination are usually the best methodology for ascertaining the true worth of anything.


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