1001 Uses For Dental Floss #34 – Chewing On Strange Floss

In 1819, New Orleans dentist Levi Spear Parmly published his book, A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth. In the book, he recommended that people use waxed silk thread to clean between the teeth “to dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove, and which is the real source of disease.”

Floss has come in many variations: thick, thin, waxed, unwaxed, flavoured, and unflavoured. But there have been some truly unusual attempts, as I’ve mentioned before: floss with nicotine, and made from nylon, silk (originally but not any more), polytetrafluorethylene (AKA GoreTex™ or Teflon™), and a number of “natural” or “organic” floss materials, generally made of silk, promising to be non-GMO, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. They could also claim to be free-range, cruelty-free (although silkworms probably wouldn’t agree, if anyone were to ask them), cholesterol-free, and non-radioactive, too. Oh, and while we’re at it, no trans-fats either.

I came upon a different sort of floss recently in my journeys across the World Wide Web. It’s X-Floss by Idontix. (This is not a paid commercial.) Invented by a dental hygienist, Lise Slack, originally from South Africa, it comes in two forms, either a very, very thick yarn or a very, very wide gauze ribbon, (and “lite”, of course) which the company claims can be used to clean very wide spaces where teeth have been lost, below bridges, around implants, or behind the last tooth in an arch, but the really wonderful thing about this floss is that the Australian company iDontix sponsors a charity, http://www.i-hope.org.au/, which rescues orphans all around the world, so a sincere hooray for them. Not many companies can tout that in their literature.


1001 Uses For Dental Floss #28- Fishing For Loot

Photo ©Angel Chevrestt

Puerto Rico native Eliel Santos makes a living by reeling in jewelry, cash and electronics from beneath New York City’s sidewalk grates. Every day, he visits various parts of the Big Apple, and using dental floss and mouse trap glue, he manages to retrieve a variety of loot lost through the sidewalk grates. The urban treasure hunter peers through the small metal holes hoping to spot something worth pawning. When he notices something, he positions himself over his find and uses his tools – a line of dental floss attached to different size weights covered in mouse glue. He carefully lowers his sticky line through the grating into the darkness below and snares his booty.

Sometimes it’s just quarters. Many times, though, Santos has pulled up precious jewelry, cash and gadgets like iPhones or iPods. 

Santos started his unusual retrieval business by chance. While walking down the street, he noticed that a man had dropped his keys down a grate. Santos went up to him and offered to help. After buying a sticky mouse trap at a nearby store, he attached it to a rock and tied it with string. After lowering it 15 feet through the grating, he recovered the keys and was rewarded with $50. That’s when he realized that this was a good way to make money. He started hunting in various parts of the city, looking through the grate holes for valuable items. His best catch so far was an 18k gold and diamond bracelet, which he pawned for $1,800. Once he helped a guy get back his wedding ring and was rewarded for that good deed.

On good days, Mr. Santos makes around $150, but on great days he can walk away with over $1,000. He’s retrieved many an iPhone in Times Square. It seems people often drop them while texting and walking. Most don’t even bother to try and get them out, but he does. On the day New York Post reporters followed him on one of his daily hunts, Santos found a green iPod Nano, a fake gold necklace and a pocket full of change. A good day’s work. And a good way to use dental floss. The reporter for this news piece forgot to ask Mr. Santos if he flosses, but I bet he does. Don’t you forget what you should really use it for every day.


1001 Uses For Dental Floss #27- Civic Engagement

Photo by Harry Rajchgot

Kudos to the City of Cote St. Luc (Quebec, Canada) which today handed out hundreds of free tomato plants to its enthusiastic citizens as its way of encouraging city farmers to raise home-grown food in their own backyards and the city’s garden plots. Fresh, tasty and nutritious fare mere footsteps from the back door; who can ask for better?

And how can you support a tomato plant and keep it from falling or being knocked over by a gust of wind or the neighbour’s cat? Dental floss, of course (see photo). Another useful use and a small part in citizens’ civic engagement in the vitality of their neighbourhoods.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #24- Maybe They Should Promote It?

Art by Jackie Rae Wloski

Warning: this is a rant.

I was at a dental convention today, here in Montreal, where I hang out. The commercial exhibits were busy selling everything dental under the sun, including lasers, digital radiography, fancy equipment, and, of course, the staples: toothbrushes and toothpaste. I walked up to the two booths that sell these last items, well-known brands both starting with the letter C. No floss on display! None.

I had to ask for it and then they suggested I buy some and give samples to my patients, which I do anyway (why I should have to pay these companies so I could do their marketing for them is a different question.) So I said: “Why do I never see your company ads ever (EVER!) mention floss, since you’re supposedly promoting good dental health. I see ads on television and in magazines for your all-in-one toothpastes that do everything: protect against plaque, tartar, bad breath, stain, decay, and anything else you can think of, except bring you on a better vacation or promote world peace, your fancy electronic, ultrasonic, super-vibrating toothbrushes with faster-to-accelerate-than-a-Italian-sports-car motors, but nary a mention of floss, which is probably the most effective means of keeping teeth and gums in good shape for a lifetime, with all the health benefits associated with that.” (See previous posts on this blog.)

I sometimes feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. I don’t have a big advertising budget like C and C. And it’s not like these companies would benefit in any way by people not flossing, since that’s what they sell and make money by. It is dental hygienists and dentists who have to pick up this ball and run with it, pushing this product, and are the ones who stand to lose out by having patients with good oral hygiene not needing their services as a consequence. Does this picture really make any sense?

In the pharmaceutical industry, there are a number of diseases not being addressed by research, because they affect few and the potential for profit is low after all the investment in time, money, and paperwork that’s required to develop a new drug. They’re called “orphan diseases”. Maybe floss is the “orphan drug” of the dental industry, not worth the effort of the manufacturers because their profit margin isn’t big enough, even though dental decay is the most prevalent infection in the world and could do with a little prevention.

The tobacco, fast food, corn syrup and sugar industries all try (or have tried in the past) to deny that their products are detrimental to health because their bottom lines depend on people continuing to buy them. The exact opposite is true for the makers of floss- their products are good for our health. So, whether you’re a capitalist (hooray for profits!) or a socialist (hooray for the people!) promoting floss is good for everyone (except maybe your dentist.)

So, C and C, and you know who you are and so do we, get out there. Make flossing the thing to do. You know how. Make us smile.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #23 and 24- Useful Uses

Happy Birthday to my daughter Rebecca
photo Wikimedia Commons

Uses That Are Actually Useful

You’ve probably noticed that not many of these posts include uses that most of you can use. Not a lot of us are yearning to escape from prison, blow up a plane, create a machine that incorporates artificial muscle power, or care that there is a floss flavoured like dill pickles. So here are a few tips for your extra floss.

I got these tips mostly from various sites on the web. One of these uses is well-known enough (it surprised me, really) that both my sister-in-law and a writing group colleague both suggested it to me (cutting a cake.)

These are all separate uses so this site qualifies for uses 23 through. This is not cheating, More useful uses may follow some other time, if I find some. So, for those practical types, here goes.

Use # 23- Cutting a cake- Take a piece of floss about 24 inches (about 60 centimetres, Canadians and the rest of the world) hold it at both ends and lay it across the diameter of the cake. Pull downwards with a gentle sawing or back and forth motion. Continue until you reach the bottom of the cake. The cake is now sliced into halves. By doing this again and again, the cake can be reduced to manageable slices, as many as you’d like to provide plenty of pieces for all your party guests.

Alternatively, by taking the floss and circling the cake with it until the two ends of the floss overlap, then pulling, the cake can be reduced to thin layers, which can then be lifted out and icing applied between each and the cake reassembled. Make a cake with 10 layers, if you want. Or more! Technically, this is Use #24.

After describing all this, I’m tired, and even worse, hungry. So I’m taking a break, slicing myself a piece of cake and pouring a glass of cold milk. And then I’ll floss my teeth. I’ll get around to other useful uses another time.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #22- Flossophy

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

To floss or not to floss, that is the question. Well, not really, for most of us, but since this blog is about floss, it is the question here. To brush, perchance to floss; Aye, there’s the rub (or the gum massage.)

Shakespeare didn’t know about floss, and probably not the toothbrush either, so he didn’t have to figure out this truly existential question and could luxuriate in dealing with simple things like political conflict, personal trauma, murder, the mysteries of existence, and the malicious application of power. Yet we, in this complicated age, when every action is questionable and every option has hordes of supporters and naysayers, have to make all these difficult decisions and arrange our personal world by priority of actions.

So, why floss? Health, say some. Others doubt the need for this activity other than to provide a topic for dental hygienists to start conversations with, before they spend the next forty minutes vibrating bits of your personal coral reef out from its safe haven beneath the warm waves of a saliva sea. Maybe it comes down to personal habit and our allotments of time, energy, and spirit. There is an association between good oral health and a person’s general level of health, but not necessarily a cause and effect relationship. The mouth is, despite it often being glossed over by physicians on their way to examining your throat and all things to the south of that, part of the body, and if the person under observation (you) takes good care of that body, by exercising, eating right, avoiding dangerous habits, and staying out of war zones and UFO landing sites, he or she might also be inclined to attend to the needs of their teeth, too. And the individual who smokes too much, is sedentary, eats indiscriminately, and is a risk-taker might also not value having clean teeth. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but not necessarily the other way round.

Flossing can be almost a fetish too. Washing the hands multiple times during the day might be obsessive, and this condition could apply to the mouth too. So, there is a continuum, and where we place ourselves along it is by free choice, if there truly is such a thing, another hotly debated topic among philosphers, mathematicians, and theology sudents. Or perhaps the golden mean applies, something Shakespeare would recognize. Maybe that is the answer to the question. Or not.

Does the concept of floss truly exist, or is it a mental construct to deal, in a small way, with the ultimate limits of control we have over our lives, and give ourselves the impression, false or otherwise, that we can alter the passage of time, one day at a time, as the clock ticks on. What would Socrates say? Or Kierkegaard? Or Sartre? Or your mother?

I don’t know the answers to all these ultimately confusing ideas. What I do know, despite the over-thinking, is that flossing is important to do. At least once per day.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #20- Artificial Muscle From Floss


1.Today’s post about artificial muscle created from nylon floss may get a bit technical.
2. I haven’t actually tried any of this, although the researchers claim you can do this at home.

Please bear with me, though. This could change your life.

Recently there was a flurry of excitement (for some) about a new technique for making artificial muscle fibres out of nylon fishing line or sewing thread. Nowhere in the scientific article was there mention of dental floss, but it too (at least some types) is made of nylon. Nylon is a polymer, a substance made of multiple copies of the same subunit (monomers), all strung together, and in this case, if it matters to you, the sub-unit is an aliphatic polyamide, which I won’t even try to describe any further.

If these fibres are first twisted into a coil and then attached to a load, the coil stretches to become thinner and longer, as you might expect. If this nylon coil is then heated, it makes the coil tighten and shorten about 1.2% per degree of heat applied, which doesn’t sound like much, but a rise of 100° to 200° Celsius can produce the equivalent to the power of a jet engine! It can tighten up to 50% of its length when doing this, as compared to natural muscle, which can only shorten 20%, and so can lift 100 times the weight and generate 100 times the power of the same amount of human muscle.

You can see a video of this material in action here:

Attaching the coiled nylon to greenhouse windows can make them automatically open when it gets hot inside and close again when the air cools, and this without any electricity or other source of power. Possible uses could be in robots, prosthetic limbs or wearable exoskeletons that are smaller and lighter than current models which use conventional motors or pistons. So maybe you could make some of this in your bathroom from nylon dental floss and then use it to power an automatic toothbrush. Who knows what the possibilities might be? You would still need a source of heat, but maybe you could run hot water from your sink into the thing. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. So get thinking, people!

Just be sure to leave enough to floss your teeth, though, unless you can invent an artificial muscle-powered dental flosser to do it for you.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #19- Floss Flavours

How do I floss my teeth? Let me count the ways (with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning). The answer seems to be in infinite ways, something like love, but it should be done at least once, and preferably twice, every day (something like love?).

How many flavours does floss come in? Almost as difficult a question to answer.

Here’s a little tally of what I’ve been able to dig up:

There are Mint (obviously), Cinnamon, Creamsicle, Cupcake, Pork, Raspberry, Mint, and Fennel. One company packages a trio of floss packs with a breakfast theme: Coffee flavour, Waffle, and Bacon. I suppose you would use each flavour after finishing the related breakfast item, but I’m not a foodie, so I don’t really know.

Then come the truly unusual ones. Indian Curry (does it come in various degrees of heat?) and Cola (very subversive, really, when you think about it). There’s Salad, but don’t ask what might attract you to lettuce flavour, or is it cucumber? Does the Absinthe flavour cause hallucinations or whatever else absinthe does? I wonder if this is even legal, or might get you arrested if you’re trying to cross the border with it in your carry-on. Ranch might go well with the Salad flavour, I guess, then there’s Pickle (just plain wrong!) which could perhaps follow a hamburger.

Then there are the fruit flavours: Cranberry, great for the Thanksgiving holiday, Apple (as American as pie, but made in China – where else?), Cherry (again, as American as pie, with the same disclaimer). Flossing with Pineapple must be almost as good as a holiday in Hawaii. Banana apparently is recommended by 4 out of 5 monkey dentists, as noted on the packaging. There’s also Bubble Gum (Double Bubble, even), and Aloe flavour (protects your teeth from sunburn, maybe, but what does aloe really taste like?)

Others? Yes, more and more and more – Cardomom, Silver Nitrate (not really a flavour, but especially for you photography enthusiasts, or to leave attractive black marks on your teeth), Onion Ring, Old-fashioned Fruit Cake (when celebrating Christmas) and Egg Nog (New Year’s?). There probably are others, and you might even want to suggest some (to be published in a future post, I promise, if there are enough of them and they sound interesting but not disgusting.)

Strangely, I didn’t find floss with the world’s favourite flavour, Chocolate, but I did find a little book called The Chocolate Monster And The Dental Floss, by Jaesung Kim, part of The Dental Fairy Tales Series for children, available for Kindle (this is not an endorsement).


So what flavour is the best one to try? Whatever suits you, as long as you use it.

Illustration at top from Wikipedia Commons

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #18- A Sense of Humour

So now it’s been shown. It’s true (well, maybe). 213 first year dental students surveyed at the University of Tromsø in Norway on their oral hygiene habits and these data were compared to their sense of humour (yes, this can apparently be measured scientifically!) using the Multidimensional Sense of Humour Scale (MSHS) initially published by Thorson and Powell in 1993. As the article states, a sense of humour and the ability to laugh “reduces stress, enhances hope, relieves tension, and stimulates immune function”. Comparing the top and bottom 30% based on their humour scores, the top group had significantly higher levels of oral health status, gingival health status, toothbrushing frequency and dental visit frequency compared to the bottom group. Even better, those who flossed their teeth daily showed significantly higher levels of humour than those who flossed a mere once a month (horrors!) All this sounds like a student prank, but apparently it’s correct (and if it is a student prank, the authors must be flossers, which proves its validity all in itself.) So if you want to smile and enjoy a good joke, make sure to floss daily.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Rom J Intern Med. 2010;48(4):333-9.
Relationship of humour with oral health status and behaviours.
Dumitrescu AL1, Toma C, Lascu V.
Author information
1Institute of Clinical Dentistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tromsø, Norway. alexandrina.dumitrescu@uit.no

PMID: 21528762 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #17- DNA Evidence

You never know when used floss can get you into legal trouble, so be careful how you dispose of it. Not in the toilet, according to Use #12, and here we find that you shouldn’t throw it in the trash either. This story is high-level scandal material in the best Hollywood style, like right out of a movie.

No, this is not a story from The National Inquirer (well, it probably was featured there, but we digress.) Picture this: the ex-wife of an 89-year-old billionaire sued him for an increase in child support payments from $50,000 a month to an amount more worthy of the star ratings, $320,000 (yes, per month!) claiming he was the father of her little girl. (I told you this was true Hollywood!) The marriage had only lasted 28 days, but it followed 11 years of dating by the couple. The putative father, believing that he was not really the dad of the little girl (after all, he was 89) and that his ex had tricked him, didn’t want to pay.

Wire taps by one of the billionaire’s lawyers (illegal ones that resulted in the lawyer being indicted) showed that the ex-wife discussed with her own lawyer the child’s actual biological father, a certain Hollywood producer. The rich man and his lawyer visited the producer the next day and asked him if he would take a DNA test, which the man refused. A private investigator was then hired to go through the man’s garbage (he didn’t want to gum up the water treatment facility – please see Use #12) and found a piece of used dental floss. A lab was able to retrieve DNA from it to prove that the producer was indeed the father of the ex-wife’s child.

The paternity suit was quashed, and the California court of course reduced the ex-wife’s request and ordered the payment to stay at $50,000 a month, as it had been before. That still buys a lot of floss.

So, how to dispose of the used floss, you ask, without getting into trouble one way or another? You can’t, it seems, so it’s best not to get into trouble in the first place. (Or spend a bunch of money, if you’re a billionaire, and commission a rocket to blast it into space, then make a movie about it and get the money back selling tickets, or just bring it to the dump yourself, if you’re not made of money.)

Don’t let this story stop you, though. Keep on flossing.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons