Science Says Your Floss Contains Harmful Chemicals

Easy-glide products may lead to fertility issues and other health problems.

Flossing is one of those things we should all do more often. After all, as your dentist has no doubt reminded you at your annual appointments, flossing removes excess food particles from between your teeth, prevents gingivitis, and is an overall essential part of good oral hygiene. But, according to a new study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, some dental floss is actually quite harmful.

The study found that many easy-glide flosses contain markers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), specifically pointing out Oral-B Glide. PFAS are harmful chemicals that have been linked to reduced fertility, a weakened immune system, and an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

In the new study, researchers analyzed the blood samples of 178 middle-aged women enrolled in the Child Health and Development Studies program. They found that those who flossed with a product that contains flourine, like Oral-B Glide, had higher levels of the chemicals in their bodies.

While that might sound logical, it's actually quite revolutionary. "This is the first study to show that using dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body burden of these toxic chemicals," said Katie Boronow, a staff scientist at Silent Spring Institute and the lead author of the study.

The bad news is, your floss isn't the only source of PFAS that you're exposed to on a regular basis. Since they're known to be resistant to grease and water, PFAS are present in quite a few things that you probably use often, like nonstick pans and fast food packaging. "Other behaviors that were associated with higher PFAS levels included having stain-resistant carpet or furniture and living in a city served by a PFAS-contaminated drinking water supply," the study concluded.

For their part, Oral-B vigorously defended their products. In a statement, they told USA Today: "The safety of the people who use our products is our top priority. Our dental floss undergoes thorough safety testing and we stand behind the safety of all our products."

If you're concerned your floss contains PFAS, check to see if your floss lists fluorine or PTFE, which are both indicators of PFAS, as ingredients. You can also try going old-school and opting for the kind of string floss that was used for decades, instead of the snazzy easy glides. They might be a little harder on your gums, but at least they don't contain chemicals that might cause serious health problems.

"Historically, the traditional floss has been around a long time. It's made out of dakron and wax and it's quite effective," Ronald P. Uilkie, a dentist based in New Mexico, told Heathline. "However, compliance among patients for flossing has always been poor and dismal. … Some people are going to use this as an excuse to stop flossing again. There needs to be some notice here that traditional flosses do not pose this health issue and therefore flossing with them is still recommended."

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more