Allergic to Dental Floss: Bad Joke or Real Deal?

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Oral Hygiene

illustration of floss around tooth“I’m allergic to dental floss,” sounds like a joke or maybe a weak excuse to your hygienist about why you haven’t followed their home care advice. But some people actually may be, according to a recent paper in the Journal of the American Dental Association. The paper presents four cases of periodontal (gum disease) patients who had not experienced any improvement despite extensive treatment. When tissue samples were analyzed, researchers found a wealth of plasma cells, which are often seen in allergic reactions. The authors suspected it might have something to do with the waxed or coated floss that the patients were using, so they advised them to switch interdental cleaning methods. Lo and behold, their gums improved remarkably. “It’s not clear what ingredient might be behind the reactions,” CTV News reported.

Dental floss manufacturers are not obligated to list their ingredients, so they can change. [Lead author Dr. Anastasia] Cholakis says she and her team were not able to get floss manufacturers to reveal the chemicals they use in their floss coatings.

One type of chemical we do know is used in some brands of coated floss is PFAS, a class of “forever chemicals” known to interfere with our hormones, decrease fertility, increase developmental delays, and increase some cancers, among other effects. A recent analysis found that one-third of all products tested contained PFAS, including the ubiquitous Oral-B Glide, which had 248,900 ppm, or nearly 25 percent PFAS. The good thing is that when it comes to cleaning between your teeth and at the gumline, floss isn’t the only option available, only the most familiar. Alternatives include

  • Interdental brushes.
  • Rubberpiks/rubber tips.
  • Oral irrigators (such as Waterpik).
  • Wooden sticks/dental sticks.

Of these, interdental brushes are supported by the most evidence, which suggests they’re as good as (and possibly even better than) conventional floss for controlling plaque and maintaining healthy gums. Oral irrigators also have a good track record of maintaining healthy gums but may not be as effective for plaque control. On the other hand, irrigators are great for flushing the periodontal pockets around each tooth, where harmful bacteria and other pathogens like to hang out. You can even add botanicals to the water, such as the Dental Herb Company’s Under the Gums Irrigant, for a little extra antimicrobial boost as you clean. But if you like to keep it old school and opt for floss, do seek out teflon-free brands. Some, such as RiseWell, even include hydroxyapatite, which is the main component in tooth enamel. Using toothpaste and floss with this mineral can help support the ongoing natural remineralization of your teeth. The main thing, though, is to make sure that you’re cleaning interdentally at least once a day in addition to brushing twice. Without it, you’re leaving about 40% of your teeth untouched. And, frankly, that’s kind of gross.

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